A synthetic 27-base-long oligodeoxyribonucleotide, termed PU1, has been shown to bind to duplex DNA to form a triplex at a single site within the human c-myc P1 promoter. PU1 has been administered to HeLa cells in culture to examine the feasibility of influencing transcription of the c-myc gene in vivo. It is shown that uptake of PU1 into the nucleus of HeLa cells is efficient and that the compound remains intact for at least 4 hr. In nuclei extracted from PU1-treated cells, inhibition of DNase I cleavage is detected within the c-myc P1 promoter at the target site for triplex formation. The inhibition is shown to be both site and oligodeoxyribonucleotide specific. After cellular uptake of PU1, it is shown that steady-state mRNA arising from the c-myc P1 initiation site is selectively reduced relative to total mRNA, relative to mRNA from the alternative c-myc P2 initiation site, and relative to mRNA derived from the beta-actin promoter. Significant mRNA repression is not seen upon treating cells with oligodeoxyribonucleotides that fail to bind to the P1 promoter target. Taken together, these data suggest that triplex formation can occur between an exogenous oligodeoxyribonucleotide and duplex DNA in the nucleus of treated cells.