Human T-cell leukemia virus type I Tax is a pleiotropic gene regulator that functions through CREB/ATF- and NF-kappaB-mediated pathways. In most contexts, Tax is a potent gene activator. Here, we describe an unexpected finding of Myc repression by Tax. In cells that overexpress human T-cell leukemia virus type I Tax, the detection of c-Myc protein in the nucleus by a monoclonal antibody was masked. Tax prevented immunological visualization of a Myc epitope contained within amino acids 45-104, resulting in interference with Myc function in transcription and in anchorage-independent cell growth. Tax did not affect steady-state protein levels since detection of c-Myc with other antibodies was unperturbed. Four observations suggest that this Tax-Myc interaction is mediated through CREB/ATF signal transduction. 1) Tax point mutants, selectively defective for activation of CREB/ATF but not NF-kappaB, failed to mask c-Myc; 2) masking of Myc was abolished when Tax-expressing cells were treated with protein kinase inhibitor H-9; 3) Tax-specific shielding of Myc is absent in cells (B1R) that are genetically defective for cAMP signaling; and 4) forskolin treatment of cells mimicked Tax in masking the Myc epitope. Considered collectively, these findings suggest a regulation of Myc function at the level of localized protein conformation.