Transcription factor GATA-1 was first identified in erythroid cells, but was later shown to also be expressed in Sertoli cells of the mouse testis. GATA-1 transcription in testis initiates from a different first exon (exon IT) than the erythroid mRNA (transcribed from exon IE). To begin to address the question of how expression of GATA-1 might be differentially regulated in Sertoli and erythroid cells, we have cloned and determined the structure of the IT promoters of both the rat and mouse GATA-1 genes. The transcription regulatory mechanism(s) controlling the synthesis of exon IT-derived mRNA was investigated by transfection of wild-type and mutant reporter genes, with and without co-transfected GATA factor expression plasmids, into either fibroblasts or Sertoli cell lines. Two GATA binding sites in the IT promoter were found to be required for GATA factor-mediated activation in fibroblasts: GATA-IT-directed reporter gene expression was activated only after co-transfection with GATA-1, implying that transcriptional activation of GATA-1 in the testis might be at least partially mediated through these GATA regulatory elements. We also found that the endogenous GATA-1 gene was silent in primary culture and two different Sertoli cell lines, and that the repression of co-transfected GATA-1 reporter genes could not be relieved by forced expression of GATA-1 in Sertoli cells. Thus the GATA-IT promoter may be under the control of a regulatory network in Sertoli cells which involves both positive and negative regulation of transcription, and conserved GATA motifs found in the IT promoter may be required for transducing these effects.