We reported earlier that reactive oxygen species are implicated in necrotic injury induced by a transient exposure of cultured renal tubular cells to a high concentration of cisplatin but not in apoptosis occurring after continuous exposure to a low concentration of cisplatin. We report here the protective effect of cyclic AMP against cisplatin-induced necrosis in cultured renal tubular cells as well as cisplatin-induced acute renal failure in rats. Several pharmacological agents that stimulate cyclic AMP signaling, including the nonhydrolyzable cyclic AMP analogue dibutyryl cyclic AMP, forskolin, 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine, and a prostacyclin analogue, beraprost, prevented cisplatin-induced cell injury in a protein kinase A-dependent manner. Cisplatin enhanced lipid peroxidation, decreased CuZn superoxide dismutase (SOD) while enhancing MnSOD activity, and increased cellular tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) content. The elevation of TNF-α content and cell injury induced by cisplatin were attenuated by p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) inhibitors including SB203580 and PD169316. Indeed, cisplatin increased the number of phosphorylated p38 MAPK-like immunoreactive cells. These intracellular events were all reversed by antioxidants such as N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and glutathione or cyclic AMP analogues. The in vivo acute renal injury after cisplatin injection was associated with the elevation of renal TNF-α content. The cisplatin-induced renal injury and the increase in TNF-α content were reversed by NAC or beraprost. These findings suggest that cyclic AMP protects renal tubular cells against cisplatin-induced oxidative injury by obliterating reactive oxygen species and subsequent inhibition of TNF-α synthesis through blockade of p38 MAPK activation.