Expression of reporter genes under the control of upstream sequences of a human hsp70 gene was examined in microinjected Xenopus oocytes, transfected monkey COS and human HeLa cells. The genes were strictly heat-regulated in all three cell systems. A 69 nucleotide long segment of hsp70 5' non-transcribed sequence that included at least one functional heat shock regulation sequence was sufficient for heat-controlled expression in Xenopus and monkey cells but not in human HeLa cells. An additional segment of about 200 nucleotides in length was required for optimal activity. This segment contains two heat shock regulation elements, each of which appears to contribute to the overall activity in heat-treated human cells. Upstream non-transcribed sequences of the human hsp70 gene are capable of conferring heat regulation on a heterologous promoter. The potential roles in transcription regulation of a bending center in the TATA box region, a CCAAT-like sequence and some of many potential Sp1 binding sites in the hsp70 5' non-transcribed region were investigated.