Interleukin-2 (IL-2) regulates the clonal expansion of activated T cells and is produced in limited amounts during an immune response. Mitogenic induction of human IL-2 gene expression elicits a transient wave of unstable mRNA. We show here that transcription continues unabated during and well beyond the time when the wave is subsiding, yet few, if any, new mRNA molecules are generated once the wave has reached its maximum. Instead, IL-2 precursor transcripts accumulate, becoming the majority of expressed IL-2 RNA molecules. The flow of precursor transcripts into mature mRNA becomes inhibited in the course of induction. When translation is blocked (e.g. by cycloheximide), expression of IL-2 mRNA can be superinduced by 2 orders of magnitude. This superinduction is completely dependent upon transcription, yet is not accompanied by any significant increase in the rate of primary transcription or in mRNA stability. Instead, the processing of nuclear IL-2 precursor transcripts is greatly facilitated, resulting in pronounced superinduction of cytoplasmic mRNA. Once its transcription has been induced, therefore, expression of the IL-2 gene is down-regulated extensively at the level of precursor RNA processing.