Expression of the human insulin gene was examined in transgenic mouse lines carrying the gene with various lengths of DNA sequences 5' to the transcription start site (+1). Expression of the transgene was demonstrated by 1) the presence of human C-peptide in urine, 2) the presence of specific transcripts in pancreas, but not in other tissues, 3) the specific immunofluorescence staining of pancreatic islets for human C-peptide, and 4) the synthesis and accumulation of human (pro)insulin in isolated islets. Deletions in the injected DNA fragment of sequences upstream from positions -353, -258, and -168 allowed correct initiation of the transcripts and cell specificity of expression, while quantitative expression gradually decreased. Deletion to -58 completely abolished the expression of the gene. The amount of human product that in mice harboring the longest fragment contributes up to 50% of the total insulin does not alter the normal proportion of mice insulins I and II. These results suggest that expression of the human insulin gene in vivo results from the cooperation of several cis-regulatory elements present in the various deleted fragments. With none of the deletions used, expression of the transgene was observed in cell types other than beta-islet cells.