To gain insights into transcription factors defining neuronal identity, we generated transgenic mice carrying a 1.8 kb rat neuron-specific enolase (NSE) promoter fragment fused to an E. coli lacZ gene. Four of seven transgenic families expressed transgene RNA in the nervous system but not in most other tissues. Histochemical analysis of adult brain from the two lines with highest lacZ mRNA levels showed neuron-specific, pan-neuronal beta-galactosidase activity. Developmental RNA and histochemical analyses showed parallel onset of transgene and endogenous NSE gene expression in various neuronal cell types, although the magnitude of NSE mRNA accumulation later in development was not matched by the transgene. These results suggest that cis-acting regulatory elements, subject to neuron-specific control, are located within 1.8 kb upstream from the NSE gene.