The upstream regulatory region of the c-fos promoter contains two growth factor-regulated promoter elements: the serum response element, which binds a ternary complex comprising serum response factor (SRF) and a ternary complex factor (TCF); and the sis-inducible element (SIE) which binds STAT transcription factors. We used transient transfection of c-fos promoter mutants in NIH 3T3 cells to assess the contributions of these elements to activation by different extracellular stimuli. Colony-stimulating factor-1, platelet-derived growth factor and epidermal growth factor activate the c-fos promoter via cooperation of the SIE and the SRE; however, mutants that can bind SRF but not STATs or TCF remain inducible by whole serum. Activation by the SIE is context-dependent: interferons activate STAT DNA binding activity and transcription of SIE reporter genes, but not the c-fos promoter, which requires an additional ras-dependent signal. SRE activation by receptor tyrosine kinases requires TCF binding, and can be mediated by the TCF Elk-1. In contrast, SRE activation following activation of heterotrimeric G proteins by lysophosphatidic acid or aluminium fluoride ion requires SRF but is independent of TCF binding. These results suggest that heterotrimeric G proteins activate a signalling pathway distinct from those that activate the STATs and the TCFs, that controls SRF activity.