The eukaryotic transcription factor nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) participates in many parts of the genetic program mediating T lymphocyte activation and growth. Nuclear expression of NF-kappa B occurs after its induced dissociation from its cytoplasmic inhibitor I kappa B alpha. Phorbol ester and tumor necrosis factor-alpha induction of nuclear NF-kappa B is associated with both the degradation of performed I kappa B alpha and the activation of I kappa B alpha gene expression. Transfection studies indicate that the I kappa B alpha gene is specifically induced by the 65-kilodalton transactivating subunit of NF-kappa B. Association of the newly synthesized I kappa B alpha with p65 restores intracellular inhibition of NF-kappa B DNA binding activity and prolongs the survival of this labile inhibitor. Together, these results show that NF-kappa B controls the expression of I kappa B alpha by means of an inducible autoregulatory pathway.