[en] A 6-kilobase fragment extending at the 5'-end of the c-erbB2 protooncogene was isolated from a normal human lymphocyte genomic DNA library. The full-length fragment and five subfragments with identical 3'-ends were obtained by progressive unidirectional deletion from the 5'-end and were cloned in front of the luciferase reporter gene. The hybrid genes were analyzed for transcriptional activity in human mammary cell lines synthesizing low (HBL-100 and T-47D), moderate (MDA-MB-453), or high (BT-474) amounts of the c-erbB2 mRNA and were also analyzed in HeLa cells. Gene-specific expression was observed, indicating the presence of multiple cis-acting sequences in the c-erbB2 promoter. A major negative element is located in the -2- to -4-kilobase region. It is flanked on both sides by positive elements that display enhanced transcriptional activity in the BT-474 tumor cells only. While predominant in the low-expressing cells, the effect of the repressor appears to be overcome by the distal transactivator in the high-expressing BT-474 cells, resulting in a 15 to 50 times increase in luciferase activity relative to the HBL-100 and T-47D cells, respectively. Cell-specific expression relies on the trans-acting factors present in the different cell lines. The formation of cell-specific protein-DNA complexes was demonstrated by gel retardation assay.