During a series of transfection experiments, the pRSV-luc plasmid used as an internal control was found to be sensitive to cotransfection with expression vectors for several members of the steroid/thyroid/retinoid superfamily of nuclear receptors. Therefore, a survey of the effect of these expression vectors on the activity of four reporter plasmids was conducted. In CV-1 cells, the activity of pRSV-luc, which contains the P. pyralis luciferase gene, was repressed by co-transfection of PPARalpha and ARP-1 and was activated by COUP-TFI. Expression of pSV40-luc, containing the same luciferase gene, was repressed by PPARalpha and HNF-4 and activated by both COUP-TFI and ARP-1. All four of these expression vectors reduced the expression of the pRL-TK plasmid, which contains the luciferase gene from Renilla reniformis. RXR expression vectors had no effect on luciferase activity in CV-1 cells but induced luciferase activity in H4IIEC3 hepatoma cells. This activation was blocked by the addition of ligand, 9-cis retinoic acid. pSV2-CAT, which contains the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase gene, was insensitive to all receptor expression vectors tested. Both the P. pyralis and R. reniformis luciferase genes appear to contain sequences that render them responsive to steroid/thyroid/retinoid nuclear receptors.