AP-1/NF-E2 motifs found in erythroid transcription control elements are associated with powerful transcription activation and thought to be regulated by the erythroid transcription factor NF-E2. We have studied AP-1/NF-E2 motifs from three different erythroid control elements (5'HS2 of the human beta-globin locus control region [LCR], the porphobilinogen deaminase [PBGD] promoter, and the mouse Band 3 promoter). We find that these AP-1/NF-E2 elements differ both in their ability to bind NF-E2 and their activity in transient assays. Each of the elements is bound by AP-1, but only the 5'HS2 and PBGD sites are bound by NF-E2. We examined the activity of these sites in minimal promoter constructs in transient assays. In erythroid cells, activity of duplicated NF-E2 motifs is positively correlated with binding by NF-E2; however, the Band 3 element not bound by NF-E2 is also active in some contexts. In HeLa cells, all sites were active and duplicated sites were most active. In F9 mouse teratocarcinoma cells, which express neither NF-E2 nor AP-1, the elements' activity parallels that in erythroid cells. While these finding are consistent with other evidence that NF-E2 is an important regulator of erythroid transcription, they suggest that some sites that resemble NF-E2 elements are actually regulated by other factors; we speculate that other tissue-specific and/or generally expressed factors may act on these sites.