Stable expression of the 40-kDa transactivator protein (Tax) from the type I human T-cell leukemia virus (HTLV-I) in Jurkat T cells leads to the activation and sustained expression of certain cellular genes that are transiently induced during normal T-cell growth. Cellular genes induced by Tax include those encoding the alpha subunit of the high-affinity interleukin 2 receptor (Tac), interleukin 2, and granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Tax induction of the interleukin 2 gene is synergistically amplified by mitogens that augment cytoplasmic levels of calcium. These changes in the pattern of cellular gene expression reflect a specific action of Tax, as they are undetectable in isogenically matched control cell lines expressing antisense tax cDNA. The spectrum of cellular genes regulated by Tax appears to be restricted: several other T-cell genes, either inducibly or constitutively expressed, are unaffected by this viral protein. These cell lines constitutively expressing Tax provide valuable reagents to explore the molecular basis for Tax action and to delineate the full spectrum of cellular genes regulated by this retroviral gene product.