T cell hybridomas respond to activation signals by undergoing apoptotic cell death, and this is likely to represent comparable events related to tolerance induction in immature and mature T cells in vivo. Previous studies using antisense oligonucleotides implicated the c-Myc protein in the phenomenon of activation-induced apoptosis. This role for c-Myc in apoptosis is now confirmed in studies using a dominant negative form of its heterodimeric binding partner, Max, which we show here inhibits activation-induced apoptosis. Further, coexpression of a reciprocally mutant Myc protein capable of forming functional heterodimers with the mutant Max can compensate for the dominant negative activity and restore activation-induced apoptosis. These results imply that Myc promotes activation-induced apoptosis by obligatory heterodimerization with Max, and therefore, by regulating gene transcription.