We have previously shown that a synthetic peptide (CKS-17) homologous to retroviral envelope protein suppresses the accumulation of superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin-induced TNF-alpha mRNA in human PBMC and in highly purified human monocytes. The present study was designed to examine the underlying mechanism(s) by which CKS-17 down-regulates the TNF-alpha mRNA expression using a human acute monocytic leukemia cell line THP-1 stimulated with the superantigen staphylococcal enterotoxin E. A cyclooxygenase inhibitor indomethacin does not reverse the inhibition of TNF-alpha mRNA expression by CKS-17, suggesting that prostaglandins are not responsible for the suppressive action of CKS-17. The inhibitory effect of CKS-17 is, however, significantly blocked by a protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide, indicating that CKS-17 requires de novo protein synthesis to induce the suppressive activity. The mRNA stability assays using actinomycin D show that CKS-17 does not decrease the TNF-alpha mRNA stability. Nuclear run-on transcription assays further reveal that CKS-17 suppresses the TNF-alpha mRNA transcription rate. Taken together, these results suggest that the synthetic retroviral peptide CKS-17 down-regulates TNF-alpha mRNA expression through inhibition of transcriptional activation of the TNF-alpha gene, which requires de novo synthesis of a transcriptional repressor protein(s).