The inhibin alpha-subunit gene is expressed in the ovary, testis, adrenal, and pituitary. Because this pattern of expression corresponds to that of the orphan nuclear receptor, steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1), we hypothesized that the inhibin alpha promoter might be regulated by SF-1. Expression of exogenous SF-1, in an SF-1 deficient cell line, caused modest stimulation of the inhibin alpha promoter. However, activation of the cAMP pathway, which is known to regulate inhibin alpha expression, greatly enhanced the actions of SF-1. Coexpression of SF-1 with the catalytic subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase A caused greater than 250-fold stimulation, whereas only 4- or 7-fold stimulation was seen by the SF-1 or protein kinase A pathway alone. Synergistic stimulation by SF-1 and the cAMP pathway was also seen in GRMO2 granulosa cells, which express endogenous SF-1. Deletion and site-directed mutagenesis localized a novel SF-1 regulatory element (TCA GGGCCA; -137 to -129) adjacent to a variant cAMP-response element (CRE; -120 to -114). The synergistic property of SF-1 and cAMP stimulation was inherent within this composite inhibin alpha fragment (-146 and -112), as it was transferable to heterologous promoters. Mutations in either the CRE or the SF-1 regulatory element completely eliminated synergistic activation by these pathways. The binding of SF-1 and CRE binding protein (CREB) to the inhibin alpha regulatory elements was relatively weak in gel mobility shift assays, consistent with their deviation from consensus binding sites. However, SF-1 was found to interact with CREB using an assay in which epitope-tagged SF-1 was expressed in cells and used to pull down in vitro translated CREB. Expression of CREB binding protein (CBP), a coactivator that interacts with SF-1 and CREB, further enhanced transcription by these pathways. Stimulation by the SF-1 and cAMP pathways was associated with increased histone H4 acetylation, suggesting that chromatin remodeling accompanies their actions. We propose a model in which direct interactions of SF-1, CREB, and associated coactivators like CBP induce strongly cooperative transactivation by pathways that individually have relatively weak effects on transcription.