In the molecular scheme of living organisms, adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cyclic AMP or cAMP) has been a universal second messenger. In eukaryotic cells, the primary receptors for cAMP are the regulatory subunits of cAMP-dependent protein kinase. The crystal structure of a 1-91 deletion mutant of the type I alpha regulatory subunit was refined to 2.8 A resolution. Each of the two tandem cAMP binding domains provides an extensive network of hydrogen bonds that buries the cyclic phosphate and the ribose between two beta strands that are linked by a short alpha helix. Each adenine base stacks against an aromatic ring that lies outside the beta barrel. This structure provides a molecular basis for understanding how cAMP binds cooperatively to its receptor protein, thus mediating activation of the kinase.