We isolated a 2.3 kb DNA segment from the upstream region of the zebrafish cytokeratin II (zfCKII) gene. Transgenic embryos, produced by using a series of 5' deletions linked to the red fluorescent protein (RFP) reporter, showed that the -141/+85 segment of zfCKII directed RFP expression in epidermal cells, whereas the -111/+85 segment did not. When -141/-111 was deleted from -355/+85 and microinjected into one-celled embryos, no fluorescence was observed at later stages, indicating that the -141/-111 segment is required for green fluorescent protein expression in epidermal cells. Furthermore, when a putative KLF-binding site at -119/-117 was mutated, RFP expression rates and intensities were reduced dramatically, although still observed, suggesting that -119/-117 within -141/-111 is a key cis-element for controlling epidermis-specific expression of the zfCKII gene. Finally, we generated a zebrafish transgenic line, Tg(zfCKII(2.3):RFP), which carries an upstream 2.3 kb regulatory region of the zfCKII gene fused with RFP. The expression pattern in the epidermal cells of Tg(zfCKII(2.3):RFP) fish recapitulated that of the endogenous gene. F2 embryos derived from Tg(zfCKII(2.3):RFP) males crossed with wild-type females revealed that the earliest onset of RFP expression was at the sphere stage, indicating that this transgenic approach can be used for studying zygotic expression of maternally inherited genes.