Escherichia coli usually produces only very small amounts of a constitutive AmpC beta-lactamase, but clinical strains overproducing this enzyme have been isolated. Three different ampC promoters of E. coli clinical strains were cloned upstream of the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene in the pKK232-8 reporter plasmid and their relative strengths were compared by two different methods. The strength of the promoters from AmpC hyperproducers was 70- to 120-fold higher than those from a low-level AmpC producer. One of the strong promoters, which differs from strain K12 at bases -88, -82, -42, -18, -1 and +58, was mutated to abolish the -42 mutation. This change resulted in a 43-fold decrease in CAT concentration. In another promoter, with eight different mutations at positions -88, -82, -32, -18, -1, +5, +24 and +58, the -32T-->A transversion, which created perfect homology with the -35 consensus sequence, was reverted; this led to a 13-fold decrease in CAT concentration. The -42 and -32 mutations play an important role in E. coli resistance to beta-lactams by increasing ampC transcription.