Tissue factor (TF) is the primary initiator of the coagulation protease cascades. This cell surface glycoprotein is the receptor and essential cofactor for the serine protease factor VIIa. TF is constitutively expressed in some extravascular cell types and is transiently induced in monocytes, endothelial cells, and fibroblasts. Inducible expression is implicated in cellular immune responses, inflammation, and intravascular coagulation. Transcriptional regulation of the TF promoter was analyzed in COS-7 cells under conditions of (i) high-level expression and (ii) serum induction. The region comprising nucleotides -209 to +121 (relative to the transcription start site) supports high-level transcriptional activity and can be divided into two distinct regions: a region (-111 to +121) that exhibited low promoter activity and a region (-209 to -112) that enhanced transcriptional activity to a high level. The role of further upstream sequences is still to be established, although two consensus binding sites for the transcriptional activator protein AP-1 did enhance low-level promoter activity. In serum-starved COS-7 cells TF expression was transiently increased 20-fold by serum. All transcriptionally active constructs were responsive to serum, indicating the presence of at least one serum response element, whose function was retained in the immediate 5' aspect of the gene, at -111 to +14. Based on this functional map, we propose that the elaborate pattern of TF expression by cells results from a relatively complex promoter.