The early response gene IEX-1 is involved in the regulation of cellular growth and survival, and its expression is related to stress-, growth- and death-inducing signals. Addressing the role of IEX-1 in the promotion of apoptosis, we investigated the effect of IEX-1 on nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation. Stably transfected HEK-293 cells conditionally overexpressing IEX-1 exhibit decreased levels of NF-kappaB activity, either basal or TNFalpha induced, as shown by gel-shift and luciferase reporter gene assay. Furthermore, activated p65 accumulated in the nuclei of 293 cells to a lower degree, if IEX-1 expression was increased. This inhibited NF-kappaB activation was preceded by an altered turnover of IkappaBalpha and phospho-IkappaBalpha. In addition, IEX-1 expression also inhibited the activity of the 26S-proteasome, as shown by a fluorometric proteasome assay. Conversely, disruption of IEX-1 expression in 293 cells by stable transfection with specific anti-IEX-1 hammerhead ribozymes increased NF-kappaB activity, and accelerated the degradation of IkappaBalpha. Along with these opposite effects of IEX-1 expression and IEX-1 disruption on NF-kappaB activation, the sensitivity of 293 cells towards various apoptotic stimuli also changed. In contrast to ribozyme-transduced 293 cells that were significantly less sensitive to apoptosis, this sensitivity was enhanced if IEX-1 expression was increased. Our data suggest that IEX-1 - itself an NF-kappaB target gene - inhibits the activation of this transcription factor, and hereby may counteract the antiapoptotic potential of NF-kappaB.