The purpose of these studies was to identify whether transcription factors, associated with cytokine signalling, affected promoter activity of the corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) gene. Fragments of a 3.6 kb sequence of the human CRH gene promoter were amplified by PCR and ligated upstream of a CAT reporter. These constructs were transfected into a variety of cell lines, either alone or together, with transcription factor expression vectors. Basal activity of a 3070 bp CRH promoter fragment was only seen in neuronal and lymphoblastoid cell lines. Promoter activity was increased by the transcription factors C/EBPbeta (NF-IL6) and more strongly, by C/EBPdelta (NF-IL6beta). Increased CRH promoter activity following phorbol ester treatment was inhibited by a dominant negative NF-IL6 mutant, showing that the effects of phorbol ester were principally mediated by C/EBP. Moreover, the inverse changes in the expression of CRH in the hypothalamus and spleens of arthritic rats were paralleled by similar inverse changes in NF-IL6beta expression in these organs. These data show that some transcription factors associated with cytokine signalling can also activate the CRH promoter.