Recent studies have documented direct interactions between 14-3-3 proteins and several oncogene and proto-oncogene products involved in signal transduction pathways. Studies on the effects of 14-3-3 proteins on protein kinase C (PKC) activity in vitro have reported conflicting results, and previous attempts to demonstrate a direct association between PKC and 14-3-3 were unsuccessful. Here, we examined potential physical and functional interactions between PKC theta, a Ca(2+)-independent PKC enzyme which is expressed selectively in T lymphocytes, and the 14-3-3 tau isoform in vitro and in intact T cells. PKC theta and 14-3-3 tau coimmunoprecipitated from Jurkat T cells, and recombinant 14-3-3 tau interacted directly with purified PKC theta in vitro. Transient overexpression of 14-3-3 tau suppressed stimulation of the interleukin 2 (IL-2) promoter mediated by cotransfected wild-type or constitutively active PKC theta, as well as by endogenous PKC in ionomycin- and/or phorbol ester-stimulated cells. This did not represent a general inhibition of activation events, since PKC-independent (but Ca(2+)-dependent) activation of an IL-4 promoter element was not inhibited by 14-3-3 tau under similar conditions. Overexpression of wild-type 14-3-3 tau also inhibited phorbol ester-induced PKC theta translocation from the cytosol to the membrane in Jurkat cells, while a membrane-targeted form of 14-3-3 tau caused increased localization of PKC theta in the particulate fraction in unstimulated cells. Membrane-targeted 14-3-3 tau was more effective than wild-type 14-3-3 tau in suppressing PKC theta-dependent IL-2 promoter activity, suggesting that 14-3-3 tau inhibits the function of PKC theta not only by preventing its translocation to the membrane but also by associating with it. The interaction between 14-3-3 and PKC theta may represent an important general mechanism for regulating PKC-dependent signals and, more specifically, PKC theta-mediated functions during T-cell activation.