Nuclear transcription assays were performed with isolated nuclei from human peripheral blood T lymphocytes stimulated with phytohemagglutinin and phorbol myristate acetate to determine the kinetics of transcriptional activity of various genes occurring in T cell activation. Although silent in resting T cells, the genes encoding c-myc and the interleukin 2 (IL-2) receptor were induced early, preceding gamma interferon (IFN-gamma), IL-2, and transferrin receptor gene transcription. Transcriptional activity of these genes fell after their respective peaks, indicating that the expression of these genes is a transient event during T cell activation. With the exception of the transferrin receptor gene, the kinetics of induction of these genes were not altered by concentrations of cycloheximide that inhibited protein synthesis. These data indicate that the induction of genes encoding c-myc, IL-2, IL-2 receptor, and IFN-gamma occur independently of the sequential production of the proteins they encode.