Transcription of the human C-reactive protein (CRP) gene is induced by interleukin-6 (IL-6) during acute inflammation. Important information for inducible CRP expression is located within the 90 bases preceding the transcriptional start site. We show that the CRP promoter contains two adjacent binding sites (beta and alpha) that interact with at least two hepatocyte-specific nuclear proteins, H-APF-1 and H-APF-2. Point mutations that abolish or reduce binding drastically affect the level of CRP gene expression. Binding to beta is identical when extracts from uninduced or IL-6-induced Hep3B cells are used. On the contrary, both quantitative and qualitative changes in the alpha binding can be detected with extracts from uninduced cells or from cells treated with IL-6 or IL-6 + cycloheximide. A synthetic promoter based on the multimerization of the beta-binding domain, but not of the alpha-domain, is highly inducible when transfected in hepatoma cells. These results are discussed in relation to the structure of the promoter region of other acute phase inducible genes.