Upon withdrawal of interleukin-3 (IL-3) from human factor-dependent erythroleukemic cell line TF-1, bcl-2 mRNA and protein levels decrease within 8 to 24 hours. Accompanying this decrease is the onset of apoptosis as determined by flow cytometric analysis of DNA degradation. By 8 to 18 hours of deprivation approximately 70% to 80% of the cells have entered apoptosis. Downregulation of protein kinase (PK) by a 24- hour incubation in 100 nmol/L 12-O-tetradecanoyl-phorbol-13-acetate (TPA) in the presence of IL-3 dramatically reduced bcl-2 mRNA levels, and induced apoptosis in the presence of IL-3. We have also found that even in the presence of IL-3, two inhibitors of PKC, light-activated calphostin and H-7, substantially reduced the levels of bcl-2 mRNA between 8 and 24 hours as measured by a semi-quantitative reverse transcriptase/polymerase chain reaction assay method; however, the cyclic nucleotide-dependent PK inhibitor HA 1004, that is a structural analog of H-7 but a poor inhibitor of PKC, did not reduce bcl-2 levels in the presence of IL-3. This decrease in bcl-2 mRNA was accompanied by a decline in bcl-2 protein levels by 8 to 24 hours after addition of light-activated calphostin. In addition to interfering with the maintenance of bcl-2 mRNA levels, inhibition of PKC with H-7 inhibited the induction of bcl-2 mRNA in factor-deprived TF-1 cells restimulated with IL-3. The cyclic nucleotide-dependent PK inhibitor HA 1004 did not inhibit IL-3-induced bcl-2 mRNA. Studies with actinomycin D showed that transcription plays a major role in maintaining bcl-2 levels in TF-1 cells, and it is therefore likely that IL-3 plays a role in maintaining bcl-2 transcription through activation of PKC in these cells.