Regulation of the human type 1 plasminogen activator inhibitor (PAI-1) promoter by transforming growth factor-beta (TGF beta) was studied. An 800-base pair fragment from the PAI-1 promoter and 5'-flanking region was fused to the firefly luciferase reporter gene and transfected into Hep3B human hepatoma cells. Treatment of the cells with TGF beta induced luciferase activity by more than 50-fold. Transfection studies using constructs with 5' or 3' deletions through this region revealed that two sequences were important in the TGF beta response. The first sequence was located in the proximal promoter (-49 to -87) and mediated an 11-fold induction with TGF beta, while the second more distal region (-636 to -740) contained two sequences which together mediated a 50-fold or greater response. Sequence comparison indicated that both of the responsive regions contained sequences with high homology to the AP-1 consensus binding site. Moreover, gel retardation analysis experiments demonstrated that both sequences bound a common nuclear protein, and that an oligonucleotide containing a consensus AP-1 sequence was able to compete for the binding of this common protein. Thus, the response of the PAI-1 gene to TGF beta is mediated by at least two separate regions, and both of these regions contain DNA sequences homologous to the AP-1 binding site.