We have shown previously that the tyrosinase gene encompassed in a 250 kb yeast artificial chromosome (YAC) is expressed faithfully in transgenic mice. To define the sequences important for this qualitatively and quantitatively correct expression pattern, we have generated transgenic mice with YACs carrying several deletions in the mouse tyrosinase locus. In particular, we wanted to address the in vivo relevance of a regulatory element indicated by a cell-specific DNase I hypersensitive site (HS) located -12 kb upstream of the gene. Wild-type level expression was observed only when the YACs transferred contained this HS. Constructs in which the HS was deleted gave rise to much weaker expression and variable patterns of expression. In conclusion, this HS region appears to harbour the essential regulatory element for the correct expression of the tyrosinase gene. Moreover, it behaves as a locus control region in that it commands the functional status of this expression domain, protecting it from position effects.