We have recently characterized an adipocyte cDNA (clone 5) that is enhanced in expression by environmental and hormonal conditions favoring adipogenic differentiation. Moreover, certain agents including fibroblast growth factor and phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (but not epidermal growth factor) markedly inhibit clone 5 gene expression and prevent TA1 cell differentiation. These results led us to propose that a threshold level of the clone 5 gene product (AP27 protein) is required for triggering adipocyte differentiation. We have constructed vectors that direct the synthesis of clone 5 antisense RNA to reduce the levels of AP27 in adipogenic cell lines TA1 and 3T3-L1. We show here that when these cells express clone 5 antisense RNA, they fail to undergo morphological differentiation, whereas adipogenesis is unaffected in cells expressing antisense beta-actin or ferritin heavy-chain RNA. We further show that cells expressing clone 5 antisense RNA (but not the other antisense RNAs) are unable to induce the expression of characteristic "adipocyte-specific" mRNAs. The level of inhibition of differentiation by clone 5 antisense RNA correlates with decreased levels of AP27 protein. These results provide strong evidence that expression of AP27 is linked to adipogenic differentiation and that AP27 may be a component of an as-yet-uncharacterized signal-transduction pathway required for the triggering of adipocyte differentiation.