A comparison of the CAT reporter activity of a plasmid which contains the 232 bp epithelial specific enhancer alone with that of plasmids which contain additional sequences from the human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) upstream regulatory region (URR) revealed two markedly different patterns, in an analysis of six human epithelial cell lines. In HeLa, C33A and SiHa, the CAT reporter activities of all the constructs were comparable. In contrast, in CaSki, HK2bE6-E7 and HaCaT we detected very low levels of CAT reporter activity using the constructs with the additional HPV-16 URR sequences. The ability of HPV-16 E2 to transactivate a construct with 2 E2 binding sites also differed markedly and showed the same pattern. Cytokeratin staining revealed a correlation between cytokeratin 10 and 14 expression and the transcriptional differences observed. We also found alterations in the activity of one of the constructs on altering the growth conditions of the HaCaT cell line.