In Dictyostelium discoideum, an increase in extracellular cAMP activates adenylate cyclase, leading to an increase in intracellular cAMP and the rate of cAMP secretion. Cells adapt to any constant cAMP stimulus after several minutes, but still respond to an increase in the concentration of the stimulus. We have now characterized the decay of adaptation (deadaptation) after the removal of cAMP stimuli. Levels of adaptation were established by the perfusion of [3H]adenosine-labeled amoebae with a defined cAMP stimulus. After a variable recovery period, the magnitude of the signaling response to a second stimulus was measured; its attenuation was taken as a measure of residual adaptation to the first stimulus. The level of adaptation established by the first stimulus depended on both its magnitude and duration. Deadaptation began as soon as the first stimulus was removed. The magnitude of the response to the second stimulus increased with the recovery time in a first-order fashion, with a t1/2 = 3-4 min for stimuli of 10-8 M to 10-5 M cAMP. Responses to test stimuli, although reduced in magnitude, had an accelerated time-course when they closely followed a prior response that had not completely subsided. This effect is called priming; we believe it reveals a reversible, rate-limiting step that modulates the onset and termination of the signaling responses of amoebae that have not recently responded to a cAMP stimulus. We have suggested that the cAMP signaling response is controlled by two antagonistic cellular processes, excitation and adaptation. The data reported here imply that both the rate of rise in the adaptation process and the final level reached depend on the occupancy of cAMP surface receptors and that the decay of adaptation when external cAMP is removed proceeds with first-order kinetics.