The proto-oncogene MYC encodes a nuclear protein whose biochemical and physiological functions remain uncertain. We used an estrogen-regulated version of the MYC protein to explore these functions. Activation of MYC in quiescent rat and mouse fibroblasts elicited re-entry into and progression through the cell cycle, bypassing early events that would follow stimulation of the cells with serum. Activation of MYC led to a rapid increase in transcription of the alpha-prothymosin gene, even in the absence of protein synthesis. We conclude that the product of MYC acts directly on transcription, in accord with inferences based on the structure of the MYC protein. The function of alpha-prothymosin is not known, but our results suggest that the protein may play a role in the proliferation of mammalian cells.