C-myb, a cellular oncogene associated with normal thymic development, was found to be highly expressed in four interleukin 2 (IL-2)-independent T-cell lines, but not in two of three IL-2-dependent T-cell lines. The IL-2-dependent lines, HT2 and CTLL-2, were found to have low levels of c-myb mRNA in the presence of IL-2. However, short-term IL-2 depletion resulted in at least fivefold increases in c-myb message. Add-back of IL-2 after 30 hr IL-2 depletion of CTLL-2 cells resulted in return to baseline low-level c-myb mRNA. Expression of the oncogenes myc, bas, raf, and abl as well as the T-cell genes Thy-1 and CTL did not parallel that of c-myb. These studies indicate that removal of a growth factor can result in increased levels of a specific cellular oncogene and that two nuclear protooncogenes (c-myb and c-myc) are expressed differentially during cell growth. These results may help to explain aspects of intrathymic T-cell differentiation where there is very high c-myb expression in the face of limiting amounts of growth factors such as IL-2. © 1987, SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.