The human RH (rhesus) locus is composed of two genes, RHD and RHCE, encoding the D, Cc, and Ee blood group antigens. The RHCE gene was isolated from a human genomic library and characterized. It is organized into 10 exons distributed over 75 kb. Exons 4-8 are alternatively spliced in the different RNA isoforms previously identified. Primer extension analysis indicated that the transcription initiation site is located 83 bp upstream of the initiation codon. The 5' flanking region of the RHCE gene, from nucleotide -600 to +42, exhibited a significant transcriptional activity after transfection in the erythroleukemic cell line K562, but not in the nonhematopoietic cell line HeLa. This result was in agreement with Northern blot analysis, suggesting that the expression of the RH locus is restricted to the erythroid/megakaryocytic lineage. Accordingly, putative binding sites for SP1, GATA-1, and Ets proteins, nuclear factors known to be involved in the erythroid and megakaryocytic gene expression, were identified in this Rh promoter.