An electrophile-responsive element (EpRE) in the 5' flanking region of the mouse glutathione S-transferase Ya subunit gene was recently found to be responsible for the induction of gene expression by xenobiotics that contain or acquire by metabolism an electrophilic center. We now find that this EpRE is composed of two adjacent 9-base-pair motifs related in sequence to the AP-1 binding site, a transcriptional enhancer originally identified as the phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) response element and known to be regulated by the binding of protein products of c-jun and c-fos genes. Synthetic oligonucleotides representing each of the AP-1-like binding sites of the EpRE and the AP-1 site consensus sequence were prepared and assayed for their enhancer activity and inducibility by tert-butylhydroquinone, beta-naphthoflavone, and PMA. Single AP-1-like sequences showed a lower enhancer activity than an AP-1 consensus sequence and no inducibility. Two adjacent AP-1-like sites were found to act synergistically and to confer inducibility beyond that observed for a single AP-1 consensus sequence. Examination of the PMA-responsive region of a number of genes shows the presence of adjacent AP-1-like sites and indicates that the structure of the EpRE found in the Ya gene may occur more generally and may be important in regulating the magnitude of the electrophilic response. The present study demonstrates the binding and transactivation of the EpRE by Jun and Fos and indicates that the AP-1 site is part of the EpRE. The induction by PMA or tert-butylhydroquinone appears to be independent of protein kinase C activity since it is not affected by inhibitors of this enzyme.