The three retinoic acid receptors RAR-alpha, beta and gamma are thought to mediate the effects of RA in vivo. We have determined here the exon organisation in the 5' region of the human RAR-alpha (hRAR-alpha) gene, and have identified its promoter. This promoter drives the expression of promoterless beta-globin or CAT reporter genes when transfected into HeLa, Cos-1 or mouse embryonal carcinoma (EC) P19.6 cells in culture. There are no TATA or CCAAT-box elements in this promoter, which appears to belong to the class of promoters made up of an initiator element preceded by several putative binding sites for the transcription factor Sp1. In addition, the hRAR-alpha promoter region contains a number of sequences that are similar to known enhancer elements. Notably, the hRAR-alpha promoter contains a sequence identical to a binding site for the Krox-20 transcription factors, a zinc finger-containing protein which is thought to play a role in the early development of the mouse central nervous system.