Abstract Sublethal doses of γ radiation are known to inhibit total RNA synthesis in the ciliate protozoan Tetrahymena. To determine if the synthesis of a particular class of RNA is preferentially inhibited, pulse-labeled RNA was isolated from normal exponentially growing cells, irradiated cells, and cells in which total RNA synthesis had recovered to the pre-irradiation level. The RNAs were analyzed by SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and oligo(dT)-cellulose column chromatography. Inhibition of RNA synthesis primarily involves ribosomal RNA. However, radiation does not cause a delay in the processing of precursor rRNA or a preferential loss of either of the mature rRNAs. Following irradiation, poly(A)-containing RNA [poly(A+)RNA] is synthesized at a rate up to three times greater than the control rate. The elevated poly(A+)RNA synthesis occurs during the period of depressed rRNA synthesis and even after rRNA synthesis has recovered to its pre-irradiation rate. While the sizes of the total cellular ribonucleoside triphosphate pools are depressed in the irradiated cells, these pools probably do not represent the actual compartments containing the precursors for RNA synthesis, and the observed changes cannot explain the modifications in macromolecular synthesis in irradiated Tetrahymena.