The Drosophila dopa decarboxylase gene (Ddc) is expressed in a reproducible set of approximately 150 neurons, and in a subset of the glia of the third instar larva's central nervous system (CNS). Expression in this pattern requires a cell type-specific neuronal enhancer/glial repressor region located 1000 bp from the transcriptional start site, and specific sequences within the promoter. We have used mutagenesis in vitro and P-element-mediated transformation to examine the role of the promoter, particularly its major CNS activator sequence (element I), in the generation of the wildtype expression pattern. Immunohistological analysis of these transgenic strains demonstrates that particular deletion mutations shift the site of transgene expression to a set of neurons which do not express Ddc at detectable levels in wild-type larvae. Transgene expression in these strains may be driven by a previously undetected activator sequence. Our data also suggest that glial expression may be driven by the same activator sequences that drive expression in the hypoderm.