Transcripts derived from the 6 exon CALC I gene are differentially processed in a tissue-specific fashion to include or exclude a calcitonin-specific exon 4. All cell types which transcribe a second calcitonin/CGRP gene, CALC II, exclude exon 4. Substitution of the first 30 nucleotides of CALC I exon 4 with analogous CALC II sequence was sufficient to prevent recognition of exon 4 in in vitro or in vivo RNA splicing systems. UV crosslinking detected a approximately 66 kDa RNA-binding protein in HeLa nuclear extract which interacted with CALC I proximal exon sequence, but not CALC II or mutant sequences. UV crosslinking of this protein was inhibited by addition of nuclear extract from a cell type which normally causes exclusion of exon 4. These results identify an important regulatory element within exon 4 and support a model in which calcitonin production requires protein interaction with this sequence to facilitate exon recognition.