c-Fos is a major component of the transcription factor AP-1 which has been implicated in the control of cell proliferation and differentiation as well as in transformation. In order to identify Fos target genes involved in these processes, we have taken advantage of the regulatory properties of the hormone-binding domain of the human estrogen receptor to develop transcriptional and post-translational induction systems, both of which allow selective elevation of Fos activity within a cell. Using this approach we have searched for Fos-responsive genes in rat fibroblasts and PC12 cells. Here we describe the identification and regulation of five Fos-responsive genes encoding a transcription factor (Fra-1), a secreted protein (Fit-1), a biosynthetic enzyme (ODC) and two membrane-associated proteins (annexin II and V), respectively. The post-translational induction system was also used to study the Fos-mediated block of neuronal differentiation of PC12 cells. These experiments demonstrate that Fos activity is dominant over NGF function and interferes with the expression of late NGF-inducible genes.