Thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1, NKX2-1) is a homeodomain-containing transcriptional factor that binds to and activates the promoters of thyroid and lung-specific genes, such as thyroglobulin, thyroid peroxidase, and thyroid stimulating hormone receptor. TTF-1 is known to play a key role in the development of the thyroid. However, the precise mechanism of TTF-1 gene transcription in human thyroid cells has not been studied. The expression of transcriptional activity in various lengths of the 5'-flanking region of the human TTF -1 gene was studied in TTF-1 positive and negative human thyroid cell lines. Increased transcriptional activity was observed in thyroid cell lines containing plasmids that coded for a sequence proximal to the transcription start site of exon 1 of the TTF-1 gene. However, we did not observe any difference in promoter activity in the region up to -2.6 kb from the proximal transcription start site of the TTF-1 gene between TTF-1 positive and negative cells. These results suggest that the proximal 5'-flanking region of the human TTF -1 gene does not contain sufficient cis-active regulatory information to direct gene expression in thyroid cells,and that other cis-or trans-acting factors participate in the thyroid specific gene expression of TTF-1.