The human oestrogen receptor (hER) gene has recently been shown to be transcribed from two different promoters. In order to study the hER gene promoter region we initially isolated and sequenced 3·3 kb of the 5′ region of the hER gene. DNase I hypersensitivity experiments with nuclei from the ER-expressing cell line MCF-7 mapped three different hypersensitive sites, located in the vicinity of the two hER promoters previously identified. However, in another ER-positive cell line, ZR-75-1, DNase I hypersensitivity was observed only in the region of the downstream promoter, suggesting differences between the two cell lines in promoter usage. Polymerase chain reaction-mediated detection of mRNAs transcribed from the two different promoters demonstrated transcripts from the downstream promoter in both the cell lines studied. However, mRNAs transcribed from the upstream promoter could only be detected in MCF-7 cells. Thus, the pattern of DNase I hypersensitivity correlates with the transcriptional activity of the two promoters in the hER gene. Based on these data, we suggest that differential promoter usage might be a novel level of regulation of the hER gene.