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For a gene to be transcribed in a tissue-specific fashion, expression must be achieved in the appropriate cell type and also be prevented in other tissues. As an approach to understanding the regulation of tissue-specific gene expression, we have analyzed the requirements for melanocyte-specific expression of the tyrosinase-related protein 1 (TRP-1) promoter. Positive regulation of TRP-1 expression is mediated by both an octamer-binding motif and an 11-bp element, termed the M box, which is conserved between the TRP-1 and other melanocyte-specific promoters. We show here that, consistent with its ability to activate transcription in a non-tissue-specific fashion, the M box binds the basic-helix-loop-helix factor USF in vitro. With the use of a combination of site-directed mutagenesis and chimeric promoter constructs, additional elements involved in regulating TRP-1 expression were identified. These include the TATA region, which appears to contribute to the melanocyte specificity of the TRP-1 promoter. Mutational analysis also identified two repressor elements, one at the start site, the other located at -240, which function both in melanoma and nonmelanoma cells. In addition, a melanocyte-specific factor, MSF, binds to sites which overlap both repressor elements, with substitution mutations demonstrating that binding by MSF is not required for repression. Although a functional role for MSF has not been unequivocally determined, the location of its binding sites leads us to speculate that it may act as a melanocyte-specific antirepressor during transcription of the endogenous TRP-1 gene.