We examined the in vivo effect of estrogen, progesterone, RU 486, and pregnancy on the upstream regulatory region (URR) of human papillomavirus (HPV) 18 transgenic mice. The mice contain the bacterial reporter beta-galactosidase gene under control of the HPV 18 URR. Pregnant transgenic mice were sacrificed on various days of gestation and the level of URR activation was determined. Another group of female transgenic mice was ovariectomized at 4 to 6 weeks of age. Pellets of estradiol, progesterone, progesterone + RU 486, or placebo were implanted 1 to 2 weeks after ovariectomy. Mice were sacrificed after pellet implantation to examine acute and chronic effects. Marked increases in URR activation during pregnancy were observed. Progesterone was found to activate the URR acutely. Significantly higher activation was demonstrated at 24 hr in the progesterone group compared to placebo (P < 0.01). Activation with progesterone at 24 hr was significantly higher than at any other time point (P < 0.001). A trend toward decreasing activation over time was demonstrated in the progesterone group (r = -0.87, P = 0.0001). RU 486 does not block the activation of progesterone in our model. Estradiol activates the URR acutely compared to placebo (P = 0.034). This in vivo model demonstrates activation of the URR in response to exogenous estrogen, progesterone, and pregnancy. These data may have clinical implications for women who harbor high-risk HPV.