The characteristic chromosomal translocations that occur in certain human malignancies offer opportunities to understand how two gene systems can affect one another when they are accidentally juxtaposed. In the case of Burkitt lymphoma, such a translocation joins the cellular oncogene, c-myc, to a region encoding one of the immunoglobulin genes. In at least one example, the coding sequence of the rearranged c-myc gene is identical to that of the normal gene, implying that the gene must be quantitatively, rather than qualitatively, altered in its expression if it is to play a role in transformation. One might expect to find the rearranged c-myc gene in a configuration that would allow it to take advantage of one of the known immunoglobulin promoters or enhancer elements. However, the rearranged c-myc gene is often placed so that it can utilize neither of these structures. Since the level of c-myc messenger RNA is often elevated in Burkitt cells, the translocation may lead to a deregulation of the c-myc gene. Further, since the normal allele in a Burkitt cell is often transcriptionally silent in the presence of a rearranged allele, a model for c-myc regulation is suggested that involves a trans-acting negative control element that might use as its target a highly conserved portion of the c-myc gene encoding two discrete transcriptional promoters.