Transgenic mice overexpressing the interleukin 9 gene were generated to study the biological activity of this cytokine in vivo. Although no major histological or morphological modifications of the lymphoid system were observed in most animals, approximately 7% of transgenic mice developed thymic lymphomas at the age of 3-9 months. The tumor cells, which were clonal, with unique T cell rearrangements, were double positive for the expression of CD4 and CD8. The need for additional transforming events, suggested by the low incidence of spontaneous tumors, was further indicated by the high susceptibility of the transgenic animals to injections of low doses of N-methyl-N-nitrosourea, a chemical carcinogen with a thymic tropism. Expression of interleukin 9 was required for optimal tumor growth in vivo, as one of the tumors studied, which had lost the transgene, was much more efficiently transplanted into transgenic than in normal mice. Moreover, the in vitro proliferative activity of interleukin 9 on cell lines derived from such transgene-negative tumors suggests that an autocrine loop mediates the proliferation of these cells in vivo. Taken together, these results indicate that dysregulated IL-9 expression could be involved in the development of some T cell malignancies.