Transcriptional activation of the testis-specific histone H1t gene occurs in pachytene primary spermatocytes during spermatogenesis. Specific binding of testis nuclear proteins to a rat histone H1t promoter sequence, designated the H1t/TE element, correlates with the onset of transcription. This element, located between the H1t/AC box and the H1t/CCAAT box, contains inverted repeats of a shorter element. When the native rat H1t gene along with flanking sequences, including 2453 base pairs (bp) upstream and 3784 bp downstream from the coding region, was microinjected into mouse embryos, the offspring of the resulting transgenic mice transcribed the transgene in a tissue-specific manner and only in primary spermatocytes. In the present study the TE promoter element was deleted and replaced with a heterologous stuffer DNA fragment. When the mutant rat DNA fragment was used to create transgenic mice, offspring of the mice bearing the promoter mutation did not transcribe the rat H1t gene in any tissue. On the other hand, transcription of the rat H4t transgene, which is located approximately 1.5 kilobases downstream from the H1t gene, occurred in these animals. Therefore, these studies support the hypothesis that the TE element is essential for enhanced testis-specific transcription of the H1t gene in primary spermatocytes.