The location and sequence of androgen responsive elements (AREs) in the 5'-flanking DNA of the androgen-regulated rat probasin (PB) gene were determined. The DNA- and steroid-binding domains of the rat androgen receptor [glutathione-S-transferase (GST)-AR1] and the DNA-binding domain and hinge region alone (GST-AR2) were expressed in Escherichia coli as isopropyl-B-D-thioglactopyranoside-induced fusion proteins with GST and purified using glutathione affinity chromatography. Band shift assays indicated that the AR1 peptide was at least five times more effective than AR2 in binding to PB 5'-flanking DNA (-426 to +28), although both gave qualitatively similar patterns and were displaced by anti-AR antibodies. DNase I footprinting experiments revealed two putative AREs: one between positions -236 and -223 (ARE-1) and the other between -140 and -117 (ARE-2). Hormonal regulation of PB was determined by cotransfecting reporter constructions containing the PB 5'-flanking region (-426 to +28) linked to the bacterial chloramphenicol acetyl transferase (CAT) gene with androgen, glucocorticoid, or progesterone receptor expression vectors into human prostatic carcinoma cells (PC-3). PB-CAT gene expression was more effectively induced by androgens than by glucocorticoids or progestins. Both 5'- and 3'-deletion mapping of the PB 5'-flanking DNA revealed that ARE-1 and ARE-2 were required for androgen regulation. A single base mutation in either ARE resulted in a more than 95% loss of androgen induction of CAT. In comparable transfection experiments, the PB hormone-responsive elements showed a greater induction by androgens than did mouse mammary tumor virus or tyrosine aminotransferase elements. Thus, the preferential androgen regulation of the PB gene involves the participation of two different cis-acting DNA elements that bind AR.