Although androgen receptor levels vary widely during development, our previous studies have suggested that a single promoter is active in a number of human and rat tissues and cell lines. To examine the elements controlling androgen receptor expression, we performed deletion mapping and site-directed mutagenesis of the human androgen receptor promoter and assayed these promoter fusions in human cell lines that produce the androgen receptor as well as those deficient in the androgen receptor, both in the presence and absence of androgen. Our studies identify a region (-74 to +87) surrounding the site of transcription initiation that constitutes the core of the androgen receptor promoter. When assayed in T47D cells (an AR-expressing cell line), this segment was sufficient to direct the expression of reporter genes at levels similar to that observed for larger promoter fragments, and further deletions led to an appreciable loss of promoter activity. DNA sequences surrounding this region appear to modulate the activity of this minimal promoter in a cooperative fashion. Site-directed mutagenesis and mobility shift assays demonstrated the importance of regulatory regions upstream of the transcription initiation site including an SP1 binding site and two segments with similarities to consensus HLH protein binding sites (E-boxes). Androgen treatment did not cause a decrease in activity of any of the transiently transfected promoter fusions tested, suggesting that the promoter does not contain the information necessary for autoregulation or that a posttranscriptional or posttranslational mechanism is responsible for the regulation of AR mRNA by ligand. Furthermore, the androgen receptor promoter fusions displayed differing transcriptional activities when transfected into two cell lines deficient in androgen receptor expression suggesting heterogeneity in the mechanisms responsible for this deficiency.