The role of protein kinase C (PKC) in mediating nerve growth factor (NGF) or basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF)-stimulated SCG10 and c-fos expression as well as neurite outgrowth was studied in PC12 cells. Activators of PKC such as phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) or 1-oleoyl 2-acetyl glycerol mimicked the stimulatory effect of NGF and bFGF on SCG10 mRNA levels. Induction involved a protein synthesis-dependent mechanism and was maximal within 12-24 h of exposure. Chronic treatment of the cells with PMA for up to 8 days resulted in a substantial decrease (approximately 90%) in total PKC activity in the continued presence of PMA. PKC depletion did not affect NGF- or bFGF-stimulated SCG10 mRNA induction and bFGF-stimulated c-fos mRNA induction. However, NGF-stimulated c-fos mRNA induction was attenuated. In addition, induction of neurite outgrowth was not abolished in PKC-depleted cells. The results imply that PKC is not involved in NGF- and bFGF-stimulated SCG10 mRNA induction and neurite outgrowth. Furthermore, while the effect of bFGF on c-fos mRNA induction is PKC-independent, that of NGF is mediated by PKC-dependent and -independent pathways.