Expression of cellular oncogenes was studied in a T cell hybridoma that undergoes cytolytic activation when stimulated by specific antigen or by anti-Thy-1 antibody. The activation occurs without induction of hybridoma proliferation, providing a model to examine oncogene expression during functional differentiation of lymphocytes. We found that c-fos and c-ets-1 mRNAs were transiently induced at high levels in the hybridoma 30 min and 4 h after stimulation, respectively. c-myc and c-ets-2 oncogenes were constitutively expressed in the hybridoma and their mRNA levels were unaffected during 4 h of stimulation, although c-myc expression was reduced in the later stage of stimulation. Inhibitors of T cell activation, cyclosporin A and anti-LFA-1 antibody, blocked the induction of c-fos and c-ets-1 mRNAs without reducing the levels of c-myc and c-ets-2. The results indicate that the functional activation of the CTL hybridoma is associated with induction of c-fos and c-ets-1 genes.