Accumulating evidence suggests that prothymosin alpha has an as yet undefined intracellular, perhaps intranuclear, function related to cell proliferation. Prothymosin alpha mRNA and/or peptide levels increase when cells are stimulated to proliferate. Because proliferation and differentiation events are often inversely correlated, we examined prothymosin alpha gene expression during proliferation and differentiation of HL-60 myeloid leukemia cells. Steady-state levels of prothymosin alpha mRNA, which are high in exponentially growing HL-60, decrease within hours after induction of HL-60 to differentiate along the neutrophil pathway with dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) or along the macrophage lineage with either tetradecanoylphorbol acetate (TPA) or bryostatin 1. The decline in prothymosin alpha mRNA in response to these differentiation signals parallels that of c-myc mRNA under the same conditions. We then determined whether the downregulation of prothymosin alpha and c-myc mRNA were due to differentiation or cessation or proliferation. Recombinant human gamma-interferon induces monocytic differentiation of HL-60, but permits continued proliferation, and, under these conditions, expression of prothymosin alpha, as well as of c-myc, mRNA remains elevated. We conclude that prothymosin alpha and c-myc expression are coregulated in differentiating HL-60 and that their expression correlates with the proliferative state of HL-60 cells, rather than with the differentiated state.