One of insulin's least studied actions is its ability to induce DNA synthesis and cell division. In rat H4IIE hepatoma cells insulin, acting through its own receptor, stimulates cell division. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms involved in this effect. The proto-oncogene c-myc is a cellular gene which when expressed at abnormal levels is often associated with the process of tumorigenesis. Expression of the normal cellular myc gene may be necessary for growth factor-induced cell cycling. In the present work, insulin was shown to regulate cellular accumulation and transcription of the c-myc gene in rat hepatoma cells. The control of c-myc by insulin was complex, with an initial-induced decrease in c-myc transcription to 50% of control values at 15 and 30 min. This was followed by an increase in transcription of about 3-fold by 60-120 min. Similar to the initial inhibitory effect of insulin, the protein synthesis inhibitors cycloheximide or anisomycin decreased c-myc transcription. However, there was no secondary induction of c-myc transcription by protein synthesis inhibitors. The effects of both insulin and protein synthesis inhibitors were shown to be through alterations in intragenic pausing of transcription of the sense mRNA, not through changes in initiation of transcription.