Deletions in the spinach rubisco activase (Rca) promoter in transgenic tobacco were analyzed to define the regions necessary for conferring light-inducible and tissue-specific expression. Transgenic plants were constructed with Bal 31 deletions of the Rca promoter fused to the coding region of the bacterial reporter gene beta-glucuronidase (GUS). Analysis of the Rca deletion mutants localized the region conferring normal expression downstream from -294 relative to the Rca transcription start site. A second set of transgenic plants containing the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) 35S enhancer fused to the 3' end of the Rca/GUS constructs demonstrated the presence of a light-responsive element between -150 and -78 active in leaves. Regions 10 bp long within the light-responsive region, which included putative G box and GT elements, were removed by recombinant polymerase chain reaction. Deletion of the G box element resulted in a loss of gene expression in the leaves of transgenic tobacco, while deletion of the GT motif caused a 10-100-fold increase in expression in roots. However, site-directed mutagenesis of the GT motif resulted in expression patterns identical to the normal promoter. These experiments demonstrated that light-inducible and tissue-specific expression of the Rca promoter involves multiple cis elements proximal to the transcription start site, and that interactions between these elements are essential for regulating expression.