The mechanisms that regulate the mRNA levels of interleukin-5 (IL-5) were compared with those regulating the mRNA levels of two other coordinately expressed lymphokines in the murine T lymphoma EL4.23. Our results indicate that IL-5 mRNA levels are independently regulated from those of IL-2 and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM- CSF) mRNAs. The induction of IL-5 mRNA by phorbol 12-myristate 13- acetate (PMA) stimulation was found to be cyclosporin A-resistant, in contrast to the induction of IL-2 and GM-CSF mRNAs. Although the three lymphokine mRNAs were not detected in unstimulated cells by Northern blot analysis, the GM-CSF gene was found by nuclear run-off analysis to be constitutively transcribed. However, the IL-2 and IL-5 genes were transcriptionally inactive in the absence of PMA stimulation. The induction of IL-5 mRNA by PMA stimulation primarily involved increased transcriptional activity. In contrast, GM-CSF mRNA induction predominantly involved enhanced mRNA stability. Both transcriptional and mRNA stabilization mechanisms appeared to regulate IL-2 mRNA induction. The activation of IL-2 and IL-5 gene transcription was dependent on de novo protein synthesis. Cellular treatment with cycloheximide enhanced IL-2 gene transcription once activation was initiated, implicating the involvement of a labile repressor(s). Furthermore, IL-5 mRNA was more stable than IL-2 and GM-CSF mRNAs. These latter two species were stabilized by cycloheximide, suggesting that a labile mechanism may regulate their degradation.