MRL-lpr/lpr is a strain of mice that develops spontaneous signs of the autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus). The lpr (lymphoproliferation) defect has been identified as an insertion of an early transposon (ETn) derived sequence into the fas apoptosis gene. We studied the in vitro effects of difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an irreversible inhibitor of the polyamine biosynthetic enzyme, ornithine decarboxylase (ODC), on the expression of fas in MRL-lpr/lpr mice as well as in congenic MRL-+/+ and autoimmune NZB/W strains. Using Northern blot hybridization and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), we found that DFMO treatment resulted in an increase in the expression of fas mRNA in the thymus of MRL-lpr/lpr mice. Using RT-PCR, we further found that the increased expression of fas was associated with the suppression of chimeric ETn/fas mRNA. With fractionated CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, we found a cell-specific effect of DFMO on chimeric ETn/fas expression in CD8+ cells. ETn/fas expression was detected in CD8+ T cells from untreated mice, but it was eliminated after DEMO treatment. HPLC analysis of polyamines showed depletion of putrescine and partial reduction of spermidine (35%) in DFMO-treated mice compared to controls. These results indicate that DFMO-mediated polyamine depletion is linked to the regulation of fas and chimeric ETn/fas in MRL-lpr/lpr mice. Elevated levels of polyamines in this strain, as found in earlier studies, may be associated with the progression of the autoimmune disease by altering the expression of fas gene or by facilitating the expression of chimeric ETn/fas. Our data also provide new mechanistic insights into the beneficial effects of DFMO on these mice.