The inducible uPA enhancer contains two phorbol ester responsive elements: the combined PEA3/AP-1A and a downstream AP-1B site. The integrity of all three sites is essential for enhancer activity. The interposed 74 bp long DNA region (COM, Cooperation Mediator) is in turn required for the synergistic action of the PEA3/AP-1 and AP-1 sites. Here we present a characterization of the COM sequence: our results show that COM and COM-binding proteins (UEF, Urokinase Enhancer Factors) may play a structural role in the induction of the uPA enhancer by phorbol-myristate-acetate (TPA). (1) COM has a bipartite structure (uCOM and dCOM) and each half contributes by about 50% to the COM-mediated TPA induction. (2) COM function is strictly dependent on its position, but not on its orientation and neither the entire COM nor individual UEF-binding sites can directly transactivate a test promoter. (3) The requirement for COM in TPA-induction is partly eliminated by the deletion of COM sequence. However, also in the COM-deleted enhancer, integrity of the PEA3/AP-1A and AP-1B sites is essential for enhancer function. We conclude that COM and COM-binding proteins provide a structural surface which facilitates the cooperation between the transactivator proteins bound at the PEA3/AP-1A and AP-1B sites. Sequences homologous to uCOM are found in the promoters of other inducible genes, coding for proteases, cytokines and chemokines: for example, in the promoter of the MIP-1alpha/LD78 chemokine gene, a 15/18 nucleotides identity is found in a region mediating positive and negative functions in TPA induction. Thus, COM-like elements represent a general enhancer function which, although lacking an intrinsic transactivating capacity, modulates the synergism between transcription factors bound to distant sites.