The hemolytic activity of Escherichia coli and Proteus vulgaris is determined by common contiguous genes encoding synthesis (hly C, hly A) and specific secretion (hly B, hly D) of active hemolysin. Nevertheless, the hly C-proximal DNA sequences directing production of the homologous hemolysins by the recombinant DNAs P. vulgaris pVU763-709 and E. coli pANN202-312 showed no extensive homology. Primer extension and S1 nuclease protection were used to define in the two sequences the 5' termini of hly transcripts synthesized in vivo and thus to infer the active hly promoters sequences. The E. coli hly C upstream region contained three separate promotors directing in vivo hly transcription, while the corresponding transcription of the P. vulgaris hly operon originated from a single distinct promotor, the -35 and -10 sequences of which formed part of an inverted repeat sequence. Elevated hemolytic activity caused by upstream Tn5 insertions in pVU763-709 resulted from increased transcription from this promotor.