Changes in the production of reactive oxygen species and total superoxide dismutase activity have been observed during differentiation of some hematopoietic cells. We therefore investigated whether the steady-state level and rate of transcription of superoxide dismutase-1 (SOD-1) mRNA change during terminal differentiation of the human leukemia cell lines THP-1, HEL, and HL-60 into macrophages and/or granulocytes, respectively. Macrophage differentiation is accompanied by a gradual decrease in both the transcription rate (10x) and the steady-state level (6x) of SOD-1 mRNA. No decrease was observed after treatment with the diacylglycerol analog 1,2 dioctanol-rac-glycerol (di- C8), which like phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate also activates protein kinase C but does not induce differentiation at the concentration used. The same decrease in SOD-1 mRNA level was observed when HL-60 cells were induced to differentiate into granulocytes by treatment with dimethylsulfoxide. These data suggest that a decrease in SOD-1 mRNA to almost undetectable levels accompanies differentiation of macrophages and granulocytes.