Peritubular cells from 15- and 25-day-old rat testis trapped in collagen lattices caused those lattices to contract. Contraction proceeded more rapidly and to a greater extent using cells from younger rats. When 36,000 cells from 15- and 25-day-old rats were trapped in 800 mm2 lattices, the areas were reduced to 28 mm2 and 170 mm2, respectively, within 24 h. The cells from older rats were less effective at contracting the lattice than cells from younger rats. Cytochalasin B (5 micrograms ml-1) inhibited lattice contraction and caused disruption of actin filaments as seen by fluorescent staining with Rh-phalloidin. Cholera toxin (10 micrograms ml-1), and 1 mM-dibutyryl cAMP inhibited lattice contraction, as did 10 microM-trifluoperazine, commonly an inhibitor of calmodulin. The total intracellular concentration of cAMP was greater in peritubular cells from 25-day-old rats than in those from 15-day-old rats: 427 +/− 34 and 120 +/− 16 pmol mg-1 cell protein, respectively. When peritubular cells in monolayer were permeabilized with glycerol, the addition of ATP caused the cells to contract. Cell contraction was greater in cells from 15-day-old rats than 25-day-old rats. When cells were grown on silicone rubber, they caused that surface to wrinkle. Peritubular cells from 15-day-old rats caused the onset of wrinkling at 4 h. At the same time, no wrinkling was observed with cells from 25-day-old rats. Studies of lattice contraction and cell contraction were also made using cells from 20-day-old rats. In each case, contraction was intermediate between that of cells from 15-and 25-day-old rats. The possibility exists that lattice contraction, cell contraction and wrinkling of silicone film result from a mechanism of actin filament sliding, generated by myosin ATPase activity, and is inhibited by cAMP. The reduced rate of contraction in cells from 25-day-old rats may be related to their higher intracellular levels of cAMP. Evidence exists to show that cAMP blocks myosin ATPase activity by inhibiting the phosphorylation of its regulatory peptide, myosin light chain.