Synergy between ionomycin and sn-1,2-dioctanoylglycerol (diC8) was shown at the level of lymphokine gene transcription. Transcriptional activation of interleukin-2 (IL-2), interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), and the protooncogene H-ras was accomplished by signaling highly purified normal human resting T-lymphocytes (T-cells) with diC8, a physiologic regulator of protein kinase C, and the calcium ionophore, ionomycin. Northern blot analysis of mRNA for early T-cell activation genes demonstrated the synergism between diC8 and ionomycin at the gene induction level. To amplify very low levels of IL-2 mRNA, sequential reverse transcription and polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of T cell mRNA were used to demonstrate the capacity of the calcium signal (ionomycin) to promote low-level IL-2 transcription in normal human T-cells without additional signals. Cyclosporine (CsA) prevented diC8 and ionomycin-induced expression of IL-2, IFN-gamma, and H-ras genes. The completeness of its inhibitory effect was evident by the absence of IL-2 transcripts in CsA-treated cultures screened by the RT-PCR technique. CsA also prevented IL-2 and IFN-gamma gene expression in accessory cell-depleted T-cells stimulated by cross-linking the CD2 and CD3 antigens on the cell surface. Our observations demonstrate that a physiologic regulator of PKC, diC8, and cell surface crosslinking of the CD2 and CD3 antigen, promote gene expression in normal human quiescent T-cells independently of accessory cells, and that CsA prevents gene expression via a direct effect on T-cells.