We have used the gibbon ape leukemia cell line MLA-144 and its corticoid-sensitive subclone MLA-E7T to analyze the mechanisms whereby interleukin-2 (IL-2) can protect T cells against dexamethasone-induced apoptosis. MLA cells are characterized by the constitutive expression of intermediate affinity receptors for IL-2, together with IL-4 receptors. MLA-144 cells secrete IL-2 and are insensitive to dexamethasone, whereas MLA-E7T cells do not constitutively produce significant amounts of IL-2 and undergo apoptotic cell death in the presence of dexamethasone. Exogenous IL-2 was shown to protect MLA-E7T cells against the apoptotic effect of dexamethasone and to increase both the DNA binding and transactivating functions of activator protein-1 (AP-1). The functional relationship between AP-1 and glucocorticoid receptors transcriptional activities was further investigated using transient expression of reporter gene constructs whose transcriptions are regulated by promoters containing TPA-responsive elements or glucocorticoid-responsive elements. The data reported here demonstrate that in MLA-144 cells, IL-2 or PMA stimulation antagonizes the glucocorticoid receptor, whereas in MLA-E7T, synergistic effects are observed between dexamethasone and IL-2 or PMA for transactivation of MMTV-CAT. Taken together with the finding that IL-2 but not PMA protects MLA-E7T from dexamethasone-induced apoptosis, our results indicate that IL-2 does not induce such a protection by repressing the transcriptional activity of the glucocorticoid receptor.