Exposure of the bag cell neurons of Aplysia to activators of protein kinase C, such as phorbol esters, enhances electrically evoked action potentials by increasing the voltage-dependent calcium current. We have hypothesized that this effect is mediated by the activation of protein kinase C (PKC). An important prediction of this hypothesis is that inhibitors of PKC should inhibit these phorbol ester-induced changes in bag cell neuronal excitability. We have now found that treatment of bag cell neurons with the protein kinase inhibitor 1-[5-isoquinolinesulfonyl]-2-methyl piperazine (H-7) inhibits the phorbol ester-induced enhancement of bag cell action potentials and prevents the enhancement of calcium current by phorbol esters. The height and width of electrically evoked action potentials in bag cell neurons can also be enhanced by cAMP analogs or agents that elevate cAMP. These agents do not influence the major voltage-dependent calcium current in the bag cell neurons but may act by modulating potassium currents and other voltage-dependent currents. We have found that microinjection of a protein inhibitor of cAMP-PK (PKA-I) into isolated bag cell neurons prevents and reverses the effect of the adenylate cyclase activator forskolin on action potentials of these cells. In contrast, H-7 does not inhibit the effects of forskolin on a variety of responses in these cells, including its effects on action potentials, granule movement, and 32P incorporation into phosphoproteins. This suggests that H-7 is selective for PKC relative to cAMP-PK in intact bag cell neurons.