We have stably expressed a trans-activation suppressing deletion mutant of the human c-jun gene (TAM-67) in the malignant mouse epidermal cell lines 10Gy5 and PDV. Expression of the p26 mJUN protein blocked both constitutive and inducible transcriptional trans-activation of several AP-1 responsive reporter chloramphenicol acetyltransferase constructs. p26 mJUN was able to block both 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) and okadaic acid induced expression of the mouse stromelysin gene in 10Gy5 cells and TPA induced expression of the urokinase-type plasminogen activator gene in PDV cells as determined by Northern analyses. Both genes contain TPA response elements in their promoter regions and are known to be AP-1 responsive. The presence of p26 mJUN in nuclear extracts, as determined by Western blotting, did not detectably alter the DNA binding activity of endogenous AP-1 as determined by gel shift analysis with an oligonucleotide containing a single high affinity AP-1 binding site. UV cross-linking studies coupled with Western analyses identified DNA bound cJUN but not mJUN in nuclear extracts of stably transfected cell lines, suggesting that the mutant JUN protein may exert some of its antioncogenic effects in malignant mouse epidermal cells by a mechanism(s) not involving DNA binding. Malignant mouse epidermal cells which stably expressed the mutant JUN protein were not only inhibited in their AP-1 trans-activation response, but also in their ability to form s.c. tumors in nude mice. These results indicate that inhibition of AP-1 mediated transcriptional trans-activation alone can be sufficient to suppress the tumorigenic phenotype in a subset of malignant mouse epidermal cells.