The qualitative and quantitative expression of three calmodulin genes (CAM I, CAM II and CAM III) was characterized in human neonatal melanocytes and metastatic melanoma cell lines in the absence and presence of serum, other growth modulators, and/or 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA). Results indicated that the qualitative expression in melanocytes was the same as that of melanomas, that is, CAM I gene expressed two transcripts, 4.4 kb and 2.1 kb, whereas CAM II and CAM III expressed one transcript each, 1.95 kb and 2.37 kb, respectively. Differential quantitative expression was seen particularly with CAM I. The average levels of both CAM I transcripts in melanomas were less than one-half those of melanocytes. Serum and other growth modulators (including Ca++, isobutyl methyl xanthine, bovine pituitary extract, and insulin) enhanced CAM I and CAM II gene expression in melanocytes; in contrast, the net effect of serum in melanomas was to decrease expression of CAM I and CAM III. This effect was most prominent in melanoma C81-46C. TPA markedly inhibited expression of all three CaM genes in melanocytes; however, in melanomas the net effect of TPA was to increase their expression. CAM I in melanoma C81-46C was the most sensitive to TPA stimulation.