Human monocytes use the products of phosphoinositide hydrolysis (1,2-diacylglycerol and inositol 1,4,5-triphosphate) as second messengers to trigger rapid cellular activation during the occupancy of chemoattractant receptors. The effect of chemoattractants on modulation of gene expression in monocytes was examined in this study. The chemoattractants FMLP and platelet-activating factor induced the progressive increase of c-fos RNA to 6-15-fold over those of control within 30 min after treatment. Similar kinetics of c-fos gene activation was also observed when cells were treated with PMA or sn-1,2-dioctanoylglycerol, but not with the calcium mobilizer ionomycin, suggesting a role for protein kinase C in gene regulation by chemoattractant receptors. Activation of c-fos gene expression by FMLP is mediated through a pertussis toxin-sensitive G protein, since pertussis toxin treatment of the cells blocked the induction of the c-fos gene by FMLP but not PMA. The level of c-myc RNA was slightly decreased after 1 h of treatment with chemoattractants, but not with PMA or diacylglycerol. This implies that chemoattractant receptor occupancy generates signals beyond protein kinase C activation that are capable of selectively downregulating monocyte gene expression. The effect of FMLP and PMA on the accumulation of c-fos RNA appears to result from altering both the rate of transcription and message stability. These observations indicate that signals generated through chemoattractant receptor occupancy may regulate monocyte function at the genetic level.