Okadaic acid (OA) and 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) are both potent tumor promoters in a mouse skin carcinogenesis experiment. OA was much more toxic than TPA for murine embryo cell lines such as Swiss 3T3 cells or C3H10T½ cells. TPA is a potent mitogen for 3T3 cells; in contrast OA was unable to stimulate DNA synthesis in these cells. TPA induces a family of primary response genes, the TPA induced sequence (TIS) genes, in a wide variety of cells. Although OA induced modest levels of TIS mRNA expression, the time course of the induction of TIS1 and TIS8 mRNA was delayed when compared to induction by TPA or peptide mitogeas such as fibroblast growth factor (FGF). In addition TPA-mediated down-regulation of protein kinase C attenuated TIS gene induction by OA, but not by FGF.