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ras is an important oncogene in experimental animals and humans. In addition, activated ras proteins are potent inducers of the transcription factor AP-1, which is composed of heterodimeric complexes of Fos and Jun proteins. Together with the fact that deregulated expression of some AP-1 proteins can cause neoplastic transformation, this finding suggests that AP-1 may function as a critical ras effector. We have tested this hypothesis directly by analyzing the response to activated ras in cells that harbor a null mutation in the c-jun gene. The transcriptional response of AP-1-responsive genes to activated ras is severely impaired in c-jun null fibroblasts. Compared with wild-type cells, the c-jun null cells lack many characteristics of ras transformation, including loss of contact inhibition, anchorage independence, and tumorigenicity in nude mice; these properties are restored by forced expression of c-jun. Rare tumorigenic variants of ras-expressing c-jun null fibroblasts do arise. Analysis of these variants reveals a consistent restoration of AP-1 activity. The results provide genetic evidence that c-jun is a crucial effector for transformation by activated ras proteins.