Cerebellar granule neurons cultured in the presence of 5 mm KCl undergo spontaneous apoptosis, which is reduced by exposure to pituitary adenylyl cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP). Previous work has suggested roles for the cyclic AMP/PKA and MAP kinase signaling pathways in the anti-apoptotic effect of PACAP. In the present study, the use of specific inhibitors confirmed the role of the cyclic AMP/PKA pathway, and also demonstrated a role for the phosphatidylinositol 3'-OH kinase (PI 3-kinase) neuroprotective pathway in the action of PACAP. Ethanol exposure accelerates the anti-apoptotic effect of PACAP by a mechanism that involves the PKA and PI-3 kinase pathways. The results demonstrate that ethanol can increase neuroprotection induced by PACAP. As previous work has shown that ethanol can increase apoptosis of cerebellar granule neurons by inhibiting the protective effect of agents such as NMDA or IGF-1, the overall effect of ethanol on cerebellar neuron apoptosis during development may reflect the balance between inhibition and enhancement of the actions of various endogenous neuroprotective agents.