Oligonucleotides (ODN) expressing immunostimulatory "CpG motifs" activate human RPMI 8226 myeloma cells to secrete IL-6. Using deletion and site-directed mutagenesis of the human (h)IL-6 promoter region, two positive regulatory elements (the binding sites for the 5'-CCAAT / enhancer binding protein-beta and NF-kappaB) were identified. Two negative regulatory elements, the 3'-retinoblastoma control element (RCE) and the binding site for Epstein-Barr virus C-promoter binding factor 1 (CBF1), also contributed to CpG ODN induction of hIL-6 gene expression. Of interest, CpG ODN treatment induced the dissociation of a repressor protein from its 3'-RCE binding site. Thus, CpG ODN regulation of hIL-6 gene expression involves both enhancer and derepression mechanisms.