The tissue-specific expression of the chicken liver cell adhesion molecule (L-CAM) was studied by generating transgenic mice. The rat insulin II promoter was fused to a chicken L-CAM cDNA or to chicken genomic L-CAM sequences. Mice carrying the cDNA showed no expression of L-CAM. Mice carrying L-CAM genomic sequences showed expression in the beta cells of the pancreas, suggesting that sequences in introns or in flanking regions are required for expression. Murine L-CAM was undetectable in the beta cells of the pancreas of those transgenic mice expressing chicken L-CAM and thus appeared to be down-regulated, but expression of the mouse protein was not altered at other sites. Chicken L-CAM was also found in extrapancreatic tissues such as skin, kidney, liver, lung, intestine, blood vessels, and the choroid plexus and leptomeninges of the central nervous system. These findings raised the possibility that the chicken L-CAM gene contains cis regulatory elements that interfere with the specificity of a tissue-specific promoter such as the rat insulin promoter. To test this hypothesis, transgenic mice were produced with a construct containing the murine neurofilament promoter fused to genomic chicken L-CAM sequences. Chicken L-CAM was expressed in the brain and spinal cord, where L-CAM is not normally found, but it was also found in some nonneural tissues (kidney, liver, intestine, lung) in which L-CAM is normally expressed. The combined results suggest that tissue-specific cis-acting elements in the chicken L-CAM gene, when combined with heterologous promoters/enhancers, can generate novel patterns of gene expression.