In the human breast cancer cell line MCF-7, we observe estrogen induction of the stable transfected Xenopus vitellogenin A2 gene. An estrogen-responsive element (ERE) could be defined by using a vitellogenin-chloramphenicol acetyltransferase hybrid gene in transient transfection experiments. The ERE is located in the 5' flanking region and is able to confer estrogen inducibility to the thymidine kinase gene promoter. By 5' and 3' deletions we have determined a 35 bp sequence sufficient for high stimulation by estradiol. Even 18 bp give a small estrogen response. The 35 bp ERE contains the palindromic sequence 5'GGTCACAGTGACC-3' as an essential element. The fact that the ERE of a frog gene functions in human cells demonstrates that signals and factors involved in the control have been conserved during evolution.