S-Adenosylmethionine decarboxylase was purified from bovine liver and digested with endopeptidase Lys-C; the resulting peptides were chromatographically separated. Peptides containing either methionine or tryptophan were subjected to sequence analysis. An oligonucleotide mixture of 48 sequences, which was 17 nucleotides in length, was synthesized based on one of these peptide sequences. This synthetic oligonucleotide mixture was labeled and used to screen a bovine cDNA library in phage lambda gt11. A clone was identified which contained a 1350-nucleotide insert. This insert contained nucleotide sequences coding for amino acid sequences of two of the peptides that were analyzed, thus proving that this cDNA clone codes for S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase. A subcloned fragment from the coding region of the cDNA was used as a probe to analyze the expression of this gene in mitogen-activated lymphocytes. Northern blots revealed two message species of 2.4 and 3.6 kilobases in length. Both mRNAs were coordinately expressed and were present in polysomes. The levels of these mRNAs increased approximately 4-fold by 9 h after activation of the cells. The magnitude of the increase in these messages is to be compared with an 8- to 10-fold increase in the rate of synthesis of the protein. The apparent increase in translational efficiency of this message upon lymphocyte activation was confirmed by analyzing polysomes from these cells. In resting lymphocytes, the average size of polysomes containing mRNA coding for S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase was 1.4 ribosomes per mRNA, and this value increased to 2.7 in stimulated cells. Thus, it appears that the increase in translational efficiency of this mRNA arises from an elevated rate of translational initiation, leading to more ribosomes per polysome encoding this particular message. This is not a general effect on the expression of all proteins, since there is no change in the translational efficiency of cytoplasmic actin upon activation of lymphocytes.