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Dexamethasone, a synthetic glucocorticoid, selectively increased the rate of synthesis of mouse mammary tumor virus (MTV) RNA in clonal isolates of chronically infected rat hepatoma tissue culture cells. This hormonal effect occurred extremely rapidly and appeared to be mediated directly by the glucocorticoid-specific receptor protein. In addition to the viral RNA, unintegrated MTV DNA was also detected in these cells. Several lines of evidence are consistent with the idea that the unintegrated viral DNA is synthesized by reverse transcription of MTV RNA. (i) Unintegrated viral DNA accumulated only in the presence of dexamethasone and was produced with a time course that closely paralleled the increased accumulation of viral RNA. (ii) Density labeling of the viral DNA revealed that both strands were newly synthesized, implying a non-semiconservative mode of replication. (iii) Inhibitors of viral RNA synthesis prevented the appearance of unintegrated viral DNA. These data suggest that the production of unintegrated MTV DNA after dexamethasone treatment occurs as a secondary consequence of the hormonal induction of synthesis of viral RNA. In contrast to infected rat hepatoma cells, no unintegrated MTV DNA was detected in mouse mammary tumor cells or mouse lymphoma cells, despite the presence of high levels of viral RNA.