Human C-reactive protein (CRP) is the major acute phase reactant during acute inflammation. The human CRP promoter is expressed in an inducible and cell-specific manner when linked to the bacterial CAT gene and transfected into human hepatoma cell cultures. In this paper we analyze the effect of several recombinant cytokines or CRP promoter inducibility in human Hep3B cells. When cytokines are tested singly the major inducer of CRP-CAT fusions is interleukin-6 (IL-6). Maximal CAT gene expression, however, is only achieved when both interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 beta) and IL-6 are present. The response to the two cytokines is cooperative. Cooperativity is maintained when the CRP promoter is linked to a different coding region, that of the bacterial neomycin phosphotransferase II gene. With a series of 5' and 3' deletions we show the existence of two distinct and independent regions responsive to IL-6 and located upstream to the TATA box. The IL-1 effect is exerted at the level of downstream sequences that are probably important for optimal mRNA translatability or nuclear-cytoplasmic transport. Inducibility is not influenced by the activation of protein kinases C or A and does not require new protein synthesis.