In this study we examined the role of the cAMP/protein kinase A (PKA) pathway in affecting IOUD2 ES cell self-renewal and differentiation, Oct4 expression, and cell proliferation. Forskolin, the adenylate cyclase agonist, alone had no effect on ES cell self-renewal. However, when cells were treated with the differentiation-inducing agent retinoic acid, forskolin significantly promoted ES cell self-renewal. Effectively, forskolin rescued cells from a pathway of differentiation. Culturing ES cells in, the presence of the phosphodiesterase inhibitor IBMX had no effect on ES cell self-renewal but did increase cell proliferation. In the presence of 100 mu M IBMX without LIF, 10 mu M forskolin significantly increased ES cell self-renewal. The cell permeable cAMP analog 8-Br-cAMP (1 and 5 mM) promoted ES cell differentiation in the presence of LIF, while in the absence of LIF, it promoted ES cell self-renewal. The effect of the PKA specific inhibitors H89 and KT5720 on Oct4 expression was, again, LIF-dependent. In the presence of LIF, these inhibitors decreased Oct4 expression, while they increased Oct4 expression in the absence of LIF. In general, ES cells maintained on a self-renewal pathway through the presence of LIF show little effect from altered cAMP signaling except at higher levels. However, in strict contrast, when ES cell are on a differentiation pathway through exposure to retinoic acid or the removal of LIF, altering cAMP levels can rescue the self-renewal process promoting Oct4 expression. This study clearly shows that the cAMP/PKA pathway plays a role in ES cell self-renewal pathways.