The growth arrest-specific gas5 gene was isolated from mouse genomic DNA and structurally characterized. The transcriptional unit is divided into 12 exons that span around 7 kb. An alternative splicing mechanism gives rise to two mature mRNAs which contain either 11 or 12 exons, and both are found in the cytoplasm of growth-arrested cells. In vivo, the gas5 gene is ubiquitously expressed in mouse tissues during development and adult life. In Friend leukemia and NIH 3T3 cells, the levels of gas5 gene mRNA were high in saturation density-arrested cells and almost undetectable in actively growing cells. Run-on experiments indicated that the gas5 gene is transcribed at the same level in both growing and arrested cells. On the other hand, in dimethyl sulfoxide-induced differentiating cells a sharp decrease in the rate of transcription was observed shortly before the cells reached the postmitotic stage. These results indicate that in density-arrested cells accumulation of gas5 mRNA is controlled at the posttranscriptional level while in differentiating cells expression is regulated transcriptionally.