The Xenopus retinal photoreceptor layer contains a circadian oscillator that regulates melatonin synthesis in vitro. The phase of this oscillator can be reset by light or dopamine. The phase-response curves for light and dopamine are similar, with transitions from phase delays to phase advances in the mid-subjective night. Light and dopamine each can inhibit adenylate cyclase in retinal photoreceptors, suggesting cyclic AMP as a candidate second messenger for entrainment of the circadian oscillator. We report here that treatments that increase intracellular cyclic AMP reset the phase of the photoreceptor circadian oscillator, and that the phase-response curves for these treatments are 180° out of phase with the phase-response curves for light and dopamine. Activation of adenylate cyclase by forskolin during the late subjective day or early subjective night caused phase advances. The same treatment during the late subjective night or early subjective day caused phase delays. Similar phase shifts were induced by 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine (a phosphodiesterase inhibitor) or 8-(4-chlorophenylthio)cyclic AMP. All of these treatments also acutely increased melatonin release. Forskolin and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine increased the accumulation of intracellular cyclic AMP, but not cyclic GMP, in photoreceptor layers. The results indicate that cyclic AMP-dependent pathways regulate the photoreceptor circadian oscillator and suggest that a decrease in cyclic AMP may be involved in circadian entrainment by light and/or dopamine.