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The 5' end of the mRNA-encoding sterol regulatory element binding protein-1 (SREBP-1) exists in two forms, designated 1a and 1c. The divergence results from the use of two transcription start sites that produce two separate 5' exons, each of which is spliced to a common exon 2. Here we show that the ratio of SREBP-1c to 1a transcripts varies markedly among organs of the adult mouse. At one extreme is the liver, in which the 1c transcript predominates by a 9:1 ratio. High 1c:1a ratios are also found in mouse adrenal gland and adipose tissue and in human liver and adrenal gland. At the other extreme is the spleen, which shows a reversed 1c:1a ratio (1:10). In five different lines of cultured cells, including the HepG2 line derived from human hepatocytes, the 1a transcript predominated (1c:1a ratio < 1:2). In mouse 3T3-L1 preadipocytes, the 1a transcript was present, but the 1c transcript was not detectable. When these cells were differentiated into adipocytes by hormone treatment in culture, the amount of 1a transcript rose markedly (8.2-fold), and the 1c transcript remained virtually undetectable. We conclude that the SREBP-1a and 1c transcripts are controlled independently by regulatory regions that respond differentially to organ-specific and metabolic factors.