The response of a cell to mitogens and differentiation agents involves the transcriptional induction of several cellular genes. Prominent among these so-called 'immediate early' or 'competence' genes are the nuclear oncogenes fos and myc. Although the precise function of these early response genes in growth control is not understood, it is likely that many of them are involved in the transition from G0 to G1 in the cell cycle. The findings that the products of nuclear proto-oncogenes jun and erbA are transcriptional factors supports the notion of the role of the nuclear oncoproteins in the regulation of gene expression. Recently, it has been reported that the FOS protein is associated in transcriptional complexes with the product of the jun oncogene, the transcription factor AP-1. As the fos gene is induced in response to mitogens during initiation of cell growth, we investigated whether expression of the nuclear transcription factor AP-1 is also inducible. We report that mouse c-jun gene transcription is rapidly induced by serum and phorbol-ester 12-o-tetradecanoyl phorbol 13-acetate (TPA). Furthermore, induction is transient and the mRNA is superinduced by inhibitors of protein synthesis.