The c-Myc oncoprotein is a transcription factor which is a critical regulator of cellular proliferation. Deregulated expression of c-Myc is associated with many human cancers, including Burkitt's lymphoma. The c-Myc protein is normally degraded very rapidly with a half-life of 20 to 30 min. Here we demonstrate that proteolysis of c-Myc in vivo is mediated by the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway. Inhibition of proteasome activity blocks c-Myc degradation, and c-Myc is a substrate for ubiquitination in vivo. Furthermore, an increase in c-Myc stability occurs in mitotic cells and is associated with inhibited c-Myc ubiquitination. Deletion analysis was used to identify regions of the c-Myc protein which are required for rapid proteolysis. We found that a centrally located PEST sequence, amino acids 226 to 270, is necessary for rapid c-Myc degradation, but not for ubiquitination. Also, N-terminal sequences, located within the first 158 amino acids of c-Myc, are necessary for both efficient c-Myc ubiquitination and subsequent degradation. We found that c-Myc is significantly stabilized (two- to sixfold) in many Burkitt's lymphoma-derived cell lines, suggesting that aberrant c-Myc proteolysis may play a role in the pathogenesis of Burkitt's lymphoma. Finally, mutation of Thr-58, a major phosphorylation site in c-Myc and a mutational hot spot in Burkitt's lymphoma, increases c-Myc stability; however, mutation of c-Myc is not essential for stabilization in Burkitt's lymphoma cells.