Cytotactin is a morphoregulatory molecule of the extracellular matrix affecting cell shape, division, and migration that appears in a characteristic and complex site-restricted pattern during embryogenesis. The promoter region of the gene that encodes chicken cytotactin contains a variety of potential regulatory sequences. These include putative binding sites for homeodomain proteins and a phorbol 12-O-tetradecanoate 13-acetate response element (TRE)/AP-1 element, a potential target for transcription factors thought to be involved in growth-factor signal transduction. To determine the effects of homeobox-containing genes on cytotactin promoter activity, we conducted a series of cotransfection experiments on NIH 3T3 cells using cytotactin promoter-chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene constructs and plasmids driving the expression of mouse homeobox genes Evx-1 and Hox-1.3. cotransfection with Evx-1 stimulated cytotactin promoter activity whereas cotransfection in control experiments with Hox-1.3 had no effect. To localize the sequences required for Evx-1 activation, we tested a series of deletions in the cytotactin promoter. An 89-base-pair region containing a consensus TRE/AP-1 element was found to be required for activation. An oligonucleotide segment containing this TRE/AP-1 site was found to confer Evx-1 inducibility on a simian virus 40 minimal promoter; mutation of the TRE/AP-1 site abolished this activity. To explore the potential role of growth factors in cytotactin promoter activation, chicken embryo fibroblasts, which are known to synthesize cytotactin, were first transfected with cytotactin promoter constructs and cultured under minimal conditions in 1% fetal bovine serum. Although the cells exhibited only low levels of CAT activity under these conditions, cells exposed for 12 h to 10% (vol/vol) fetal bovine serum showed a marked increase in CAT activity. Cotransfection with Evx-1 and cytotactin promoter constructs of cells cultured in 1% fetal bovine serum was sufficient, however, to produce high levels of CAT activity. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that Evx-1, a homeobox-containing gene, may activate the cytotactin promoter by a mechanism involving a growth-factor signal transduction pathway. More generally, the results support the hypothesis that the place-dependent expression of morphoregulatory molecules may depend upon local cues provided by homeobox genes and their encoded proteins.