Expression of keratin K5 (and K14) in multilayered epithelia occurs predominantly in the basal layer of proliferating keratinocytes. When a keratinocyte becomes committed to terminal differentiation, it moves out of the basal layer towards the epithelial surface. As part of this program of terminal differentiation, the expression of K5 (and K14) is downregulated in suprabasal cells, and new pairs of differentiation-specific keratins are expressed. To define the cis-acting DNA sequences required for K5 cell-type- and differentiation-specific expression, chimeric gene fusions between portions of the bovine keratin K5 locus and the Escherichia coli lacZ gene were used to generate transgenic mice. In the genomic fragment consisting of 5.3 kb of 5' flanking sequences, 6.1 kb corresponding to the body of the gene and 4.5 kb of 3' flanking sequences, the subfragment extending from -5300 bp to +138 bp was the smaller region that directed lacZ expression to stratified epithelia in a manner analogous to the endogenous keratin K5. Proximal sequences from -1300 bp to +138 bp were inactive. We also determined the expression pattern of keratin K5 during mouse development using an antiserum specific for mouse keratin K5. Expression was first detected in ectodermal cells of 11.5 days postcoitum embryos, and from day 13.5 postcoitum onwards K5 was detected in the precursors of most epithelia and organs which express K5 at adult stages. This pattern was reproduced, with few differences, by the construct with sequences from -5300 bp to +138 bp fused to the lacZ gene. These findings identify sequences between -5.3 kb and -1.3 kb of the bovine K5 gene as being important for cell-type- and differentiation-specific gene expression both during mouse development and in the adult.