Embryonic genome activation (EGA) occurs by the 2-cell stage in mouse embryos. To understand the molecular basis of EGA, it is important to determine whether EGA can be supported by maternally inherited factors or if it requires the synthesis of additional transcription factors. We used a quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method to test whether protein synthesis is required for the transcriptional activation of six housekeeping genes (U2afbp-rs, Hprt, Pdha1, Prps1, Odc, and Cox7c). Cycloheximide treatment reduced the expression of these mRNAs in 2-cell embryos to the same degree as alpha-amanitin treatment. Cycloheximide treatment did not reduce the expression of maternally inherited mRNAs, indicating that its effect is specific for transcription-dependent gene expression. These results contrast with earlier results reported for the Hsp70 gene. This difference may reflect differences in promoter requirements. We conclude that protein synthesis is required for the activation of most, if not all, housekeeping genes in the mouse embryo, and that the time of EGA may be controlled, in part, by the regulated recruitment of maternal mRNAs encoding key transcription factors.