Cyclic AMP (cAMP)-dependent protein kinase may play a role in the functional and morphological differentiation of leukemic cells. In this study, we showed that the cAMP analogs, potent activators of protein kinase recently shown to be selective for either site 1 or site 2 cAMP binding sites of protein kinase, demonstrate potent growth inhibition of acute promyelocytic, chronic myelocytic, and acute lymphocytic leukemic cell lines with no sign of toxicity. The growth inhibition accompanied monocytic differentiation in HL-60 cells and a loss of nuclear terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase activity in Molt-4 leukemic cells. The growth inhibition also paralleled a decrease in c- myc protein and RI cAMP receptor protein. Thus, cAMP analogs selective for either site 1 or site 2 of the protein kinase appear to restore a coupling of proliferation and maturation in leukemic cells.