Expression of the transcription complex AP-1, composed of Jun and Fos family members, can be induced by a variety of stimuli. In lymphocytes, AP-1 transcriptional activity increases after TCR ligation and plays an important role in T cell activation events such as lymphokine secretion. To explore the requirements for AP-1 in IL-2 production, the AP-1 complex was targeted with a dominant negative mutant c-Jun protein, TAM-67, from which the transactivation domain has been deleted. In transient transfections of Jurkat cells, TAM-67 efficiently inhibited endogenous AP-1 transcriptional activity and blocked the activity of a reporter construct containing the 5' regulatory region of the IL-2 gene. TAM-67 also inhibited the transcriptional activity of nuclear factor-AT (NF-AT), whereas the NF-κB, NF-IL-2A, and the proximal TRE-like sites were relatively unaffected. The use of this dominant negative transcription factor suggests that: 1) transactivation-defective nuclear factors represent a novel approach to study the functional consequences of nuclear protein interactions on gene transcription; 2) the proximal TRE-like site from the IL-2 promoter is different from the consensus TRE; and 3) AP-1 plays an important role in the transcriptional activation mediated by the NF- AT binding complex.