A human ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) gene probe has been isolated from a Jurkat T-cell cDNA expression library, sequenced, and used to analyze ODC mRNA levels in untransformed human lymphocytes and fibroblasts stimulated to proliferate by various mitogens. The partial cDNA sequence is 86% homologous to the mouse ODC cDNA, and Northern blots indicate that the human and mouse mRNA species are similar in size. ODC mRNA is barely detectable in quiescent human T lymphocytes and undetectable in density-arrested W138 fibroblasts. Following stimulation of T-lymphocyte proliferation with phytohemagglutinin, the ODC mRNA level rises to a peak around mid G1 phase and decreases as the cells enter S phase. Serum stimulation of density-arrested fibroblasts results in an elevation of the ODC mRNA level which persists throughout the cell cycle. Epidermal growth factor (20 ng/ml) but not insulin (10 mg/ml) or dexamethasone (55 ng/ml) stimulates ODC expression in quiescent W138 fibroblasts. Southern blots suggest that human cells have a single copy of the ODC gene.