We cloned and characterized a 3.3-kb fragment containing the 5'-regulatory region of the human myostatin gene. The promoter sequence contains putative muscle growth response elements for glucocorticoid, androgen, thyroid hormone, myogenic differentiation factor 1, myocyte enhancer factor 2, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor, and nuclear factor-kappaB. To identify sites important for myostatin's gene transcription and regulation, eight deletion constructs were placed in C(2)C(12) and L6 skeletal muscle cells. Transcriptional activity of the constructs was found to be significantly higher in myotubes compared with that of myoblasts. To investigate whether glucocorticoids regulate myostatin gene expression, we incubated both cell lines with dexamethasone. On both occasions, dexamethasone dose dependently increased both the promoter's transcriptional activity and the endogenous myostatin expression. The effects of dexamethasone were blocked when the cells were coincubated with the glucocorticoid receptor antagonist RU-486. These findings suggest that glucocorticoids upregulate myostatin expression by inducing gene transcription, possibly through a glucocorticoid receptor-mediated pathway. We speculate that glucocorticoid-associated muscle atrophy might be due in part to the upregulation of myostatin expression.