C-myc protein expression in human T cells was specifically inhibited by a 15-mer deoxy-oligonucleotide complementary to the 5' end of the human c-myc gene second exon. The oligonucleotide penetrates the cells without any treatment, with a plateau of cell association reached in 2 h. The oligonucleotide specifically blocked the de novo synthesis of c-myc protein, induced by PHA in human resting peripheral T cells, without impairing the overall synthesis of other proteins, as shown by two-dimensional analysis of [35S]methionine pulse-labeled proteins. The specific inhibition of c-myc protein synthesis prevented the entry into S phase of resting T cells, induced to proliferate by PHA, or IL-2-dependent T cells induced by IL-2, as shown by [3H]thymidine incorporation. The inhibition of proliferation was specific since it was not observed with the corresponding sense-oligonucleotide and was reversed by preincubation of the cells with an excess of sense oligonucleotide. These results clearly support a role for c-myc protein in the proliferation process and show that inducible protein expression can be blocked by means of synthetic oligonucleotides complementary to a coding exon.