Analysis of the regulation of c-jun, jun-B, and c-fos RNA transcript expression was performed in human primary melanocytes and metastatic melanoma cell strains. The medium requirements for human melanocyte in vitro growth are phorbol esters, agents that elevate intracellular cAMP levels, hormones, and growth factors. Cellular jun, jun-B, and c-fos gene expression are known to be affected by growth promoting agents. In primary melanocytes, the expression of c-jun, jun-B, and c-fos RNA transcripts was dependent on the growth-promoting agents present in the medium. Uniformly high c-jun, jun-B, and c-fos RNA transcript levels were observed in melanocytes cultivated in complete medium. Higher levels of c-jun RNA transcripts and low levels of c-fos RNA transcripts were observed in melanocytes cultivated in plain medium. In contrast, a range of c-jun, jun-B, and c-fos RNA transcript levels was detected in metastatic melanoma cell strains cultivated in medium with or without serum. In general, an increase in jun-B and c-fos RNA transcript expression and a decrease in c-jun RNA transcript expression was observed in metastatic melanomas compared to neonatal melanocytes. These data suggest a potential role for c-jun, jun-B, and c-fos genes in the transformation of melanocytes to malignant melanoma.