The human progesterone receptor (hPR) cDNA, synthesized from T47D breast cancer cells, and the hPR gene 5'-flanking region were cloned and sequenced. Comparison of the cDNA-deduced amino acid sequence with other PR homologues demonstrated the modular structure characteristic of nuclear receptors. As in the case of the chicken homologue, there are two hPR forms, A and B, which originate from translational initiation at AUG2 (codon 165) and AUG1, respectively. Northern blot analysis of T47D mRNA using various cDNA derived probes identified two classes of hPR mRNAs, one of which could code for hPR form B, while the other one lacked the 5' region upstream of AUG1. S1 nuclease mapping and primer extension analyses confirmed that the second class of hPR transcripts are initiated between +737 and +842 and thus encode hPR form A, but not form B. By using the hPR gene 5'-flanking sequences as promoter region in chimeric genes, we show that a functional promoter (located between -711 and +31) directs initiation of hPR mRNAs from the authentic start sites located at +1 and +15. Most importantly, initiation of transcription from chimeric genes demonstrated the existence of a second promoter located between +464 and +1105. Transient co-transfection experiments with vectors expressing the human estrogen receptor showed that both promoters were estrogen inducible, although no classical estrogen responsive element was detected in the corresponding sequences. When transiently expressed, the two hPR forms similarly activated transcription from reporter genes containing a single palindromic progestin responsive element (PRE), while form B was more efficient at activating the PRE of the mouse mammary tumor virus long terminal repeat. Transcription from the ovalbumin promoter, however, was induced by hPR form A, but not by form B.