Cyclosporin A (CsA) is a potent immunosuppressive agent, now gaining wide application in human organ transplantation. The immunosuppressive activity of CsA is at least in part due to inhibition of lymphokine production by activated T lymphocytes. Specifically, inhibition of T-cell growth factor (TCGF; also designated interleukin 2) production appears to be an important pathway by which CsA impairs T-cell function. To define further both the specificity of CsA and the level at which it interferes with lymphokine gene expression, we have studied its effects on TCGF mRNA accumulation as well as TCGF gene transcription. These studies were performed with a cloned human leukemic T-cell line (Jurkat, subclone 32), which can be induced with phytohemagglutinin and phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate to produce large amounts of TCGF. In these cells, high levels of TCGF mRNA were present in induced but not in uninduced Jurkat cells as judged by hybridization to a cloned human TCGF cDNA probe. CsA completely inhibited induced TCGF mRNA accumulation at concentrations of 0.3-1.0 microgram/ml, whereas low levels of appropriately sized TCGF mRNA were present at 0.01 microgram/ml. In nuclear transcription experiments, CsA inhibited the synthesis of TCGF transcripts in a dose-dependent manner with complete inhibition at a concentration of 1 microgram/ml. In contrast, CsA did not inhibit the expression of two other inducible genes, TCGF receptor and HT-3. Further, HLA gene expression was also less affected than TCGF in CsA-treated cells. These data suggest a relatively selective action of CsA on TCGF gene transcription.