We report here the cloning, sequencing, functional analysis and DNase I footprinting of the human c-rel promoter region. The results revealed an 824-bp BsaAI-StuI minimal promoter region with a large number of NF-kappa B, Ap2 and Sp1-binding sites, some of them variants of known consensus sequences. This is the first promoter in the Rel/NF-kappa B/I kappa B family to be subjected to a detailed footprinting analysis for the binding of transcription activator proteins. Our finding of 14 Ap2-binding sites may indicate why the human c-rel promoter, unlike the chicken c-rel promoter, has a strong function and is highly responsive to phorbol esters. The presence of five NF-kappa B and six Sp1-binding sites in turn adds to growing evidence that, in mammals, the promoter of the Rel/NF-kappa B/I kappa B family may utilize multiple NF-kappa B- and Sp1-binding sites for their interactive regulation. Furthermore, there are putative binding sites for the PU.1 and Oct 1/2 transcription activator proteins, also present in the mouse c-rel promoter, which may help explain the preferential transcription of the c-rel gene in B- and T-lymphoid cells.