When quiescent cells are stimulated with growth factors, phorbol esters, okadaic acid, or protein synthesis inhibitors, the early-response genes, which include c-fos and c-jun, are rapidly induced. The earliest growth factor- and phorbol ester-stimulated nuclear signaling events concomitant with proto-oncogene induction are the rapid phosphorylation of two chromatin-associated proteins, pp33 and pp15. We show here that the tumor promoter okadaic acid, which inhibits protein phosphatases 1 and 2A, and the protein synthesis inhibitors anisomycin and cycloheximide also stimulate pp33 and pp15 phosphorylation. Using transcriptional inhibitors, we show that this response is not a consequence of early gene induction. By peptide mapping and microsequencing, chromatin-associated pp15 is identified as histone H3. Upon stimulation, histone H3 is rapidly phosphorylated on serine residues within its highly charged, basic N-terminal domain. Thus, these diverse agents elicit a common early nuclear signal modulating nucleosomal structure or function, potentially contributing to conformational regulation of proto-oncogene induction.