Tristetraprolin (TTP) is the prototype of a group of potential transcription factors that contain two or more unusual CCCH zinc fingers. TTP is encoded by the immediate-early response gene Zfp-36, which is rapidly induced in fibroblasts in response to insulin and other growth factors. Indirect evidence suggests that TTP might function as an inhibitory transcription factor. The present studies evaluated the effect of mitogens on the subcellular localization of TTP using Western blotting of cellular nuclear and cytosolic fractions. In NIH/3T3 mouse fibroblasts that constitutively express TTP, 70% of the protein was located in the nucleus of quiescent, serum-deprived cells. Immunoreactive TTP began to increase in the cytosolic compartment within 1 min of serum stimulation of the cells; this increase in cytosolic protein was essentially complete within 5 min of serum stimulation (81% of total) and was accompanied by a commensurate decrease in nuclear TTP. This translocation was complete well before the increase in TTP synthesis that occurred after serum stimulation. Similar experiments in cells expressing a mutant TTP, in which the major mitogen-activated protein kinase site (serine 220) had been mutated to alanine, revealed normal nuclear to cytosolic translocation after serum stimulation, indicating that phosphorylation of this site is not necessary for this translocation to occur. These results suggest that TTP is rapidly modified in response to mitogens so that it is rapidly released from the nucleus to the cytosol, or that proteins retaining TTP in the nucleus are modified to release it into the cytosol. Thus, TTP's proposed function as a transcription factor, possibly an inhibitory one, may be regulated in cells in part by a novel mechanism, i.e. that of rapid, mitogen-stimulated translocation out of the cellular nucleus.