This study was designed to determine the potential cis-elements involved in transcriptional regulation of the mouse perforin gene. DNase I hypersensitive site (DHS) mapping revealed that the perforin locus contained six DHS within 7.0 kb of the 5' upstream sequence (-7.0 kb) and two DHS in intron 2. The six 5' upstream and one intronic DHS were detected in only perforin-expressing lymphocytes. Chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) activities directed by 5' upstream promoter were detected preferentially in perforin-expressing cell lines. A construct termed PFP5a containing -795 bp exhibited the highest CAT activity, and PFP9a20 containing only -73 bp also produced significantly high CAT activity in CTLL-R8 cells. The proximal region in PFP9a20 contained two potential Sp1 binding sites (GC box and GT box) and one Ets binding site (EBS). Electrophoretic mobility shift assay showed that each of the cis-elements bound specific protein factors. When single-point mutation was introduced to each GC box, EBS, and GT box in PFP9a20, at least 3-fold less CAT activity was observed in CTLL-R8 cells. To confirm the importance of the three cis-acting elements in the perforin gene expression, point mutation was introduced again to each proximal GC box, EBS, and GT box of PFP5a. The point mutations resulted in a 2.5- to 3-fold reduction of CAT activity. The results suggest that a combination of the three proximal cis-acting elements may constitute a minimal region responsible for CTL-specific expression of perforin.