Transformation of cloned rat embryo fibroblasts (CREF) with the T24-ras oncogene results in loss of contact inhibition, growth in soft agar and tumor formation in nude mice. Previously we showed that in such cells (CREF T24), the phosphorylation rate of protein synthesis initiation factor 4E (eIF-4E) is increased, correlating with an increase in the general rate of protein synthesis. In the present study, we have expressed antisense RNA complementary to eIF-4E mRNA in CREF T24 cells using a stably integrated vector. Cells expressing antisense RNA (CREF T24/AS) contained 30-50% of the normal level of eIF-4E and exhibited many of the properties of untransformed cells. CREF T24 had a spindle-shaped, refractile appearance, whereas CREF T24/AS grew in ordered, parallel patterns and exhibited contact inhibition similar to untransformed CREF. The rates of growth and protein synthesis in CREF T24/AS were decreased compared to CREF T24 but were not as low as in CREF. The efficiency of growth in soft agar was 11-fold lower for CREF T24/AS compared with CREF T24. The latency period for tumor formation in nude mice was increased from 8 days for CREF T24 to 17-27 days for CREF T24/AS and various clonal lines derived from them. Cell lines established from these CREF T24/AS-derived tumors were shown to have partially regained the eIF-4E levels characteristic of CREF T24. These results demonstrate that many of the phenotypic alterations associated with ras-induced malignant transformation can be reversed by a moderate reduction of the translational initiation capacity and therefore may be mediated through a translational mechanism.