Estrogens induce transcriptional activation of c-fos and c-myc proto-oncogenes during mitogenic stimulation of human, chicken, mouse and rat cells in vivo and in vitro. In this paper we show that 17 beta-estradiol injected into adult ovariectomized rats increases c-jun, jun-B and jun-D gene transcription in the uterus. Kinetics and amplitude of response are different for each gene, since c-jun is activated first, within 30 min after injection, followed by jun-D and jun-B, 60 and 90 min after injection, respectively. Maximal activation of jun-B marks a drop in transcription of all the jun genes. Furthermore, transcriptional activation by 17 beta-estradiol of the growth-regulated beta- and gamma-cytoskeletal actin genes is prevented by an inhibitor of protein synthesis, indicating that it is a secondary response to the hormone. These data support the hypothesis that during growth stimulation of target cells the estrogen receptor induces transcription of regulatory genes, triggering in this way a cascade of gene regulation events that results in progression through the cell cycle.