Transcription of the human gene encoding transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-beta 1), which is a key regulator of cell growth and differentiation, is inducible by phorbol esters. DNA sequences resembling phorbol ester response elements (TREs) are present upstream and downstream of this gene. TREs are recognized by proteins from the AP-1 family of transcription factors. We examined a 16 basepair (bp) sequence downstream of the TGF-beta 1 gene that contains three putative TREs. This sequence had been shown to stimulate reporter gene expression from a downstream location in response to phorbol ester treatment. Electrophoretic mobility shift assays suggest that minor proteins from the related AP-1 and CREB families of transcription factors bind to the overlapping TREs within the 16 bp element. A site beginning at the end of this 16 bp element matches the consensus sequence of a DNA-binding protein called MDBP and was shown to bind to this protein. When the intact MDBP site was present in a reporter gene construct in addition to the TREs, the phorbol ester-induced stimulation of reporter gene expression was no longer observed. This suggests that MDBP can counteract the stimulation of transcription by AP-1/CREB-like proteins binding to this downstream enhancer element.