Downregulation of the c-myc gene in HL-60 cells is associated with growth inhibition and induction of differentiation. Previous studies have reported that the growth inhibitors TGF beta and TNF alpha downregulate c-myc mRNA levels, suggesting the possibility that these agents may exert some of their phenotypic effects via c-myc downregulation. Our study demonstrates that although both growth inhibitors produce a similar decrease in c-myc protein synthesis, TNF alpha produces a greater growth inhibition and differentiation induction in HL-60 cells. Combined addition of anti-myc oligomer with either growth inhibitor produces no additive effect. In fact, 4 microM anti-myc oligomer produces the same growth and differentiation effects as does 10 ng/ml TGF beta 1. We conclude that downregulation of c-myc expression represents a common mechanism of growth inhibition by TGF beta and TNF alpha, but that TNF alpha possesses an additional effect that is independent of c-myc expression.