The promoter/regulatory region of the bovine CYP11A (P-450scc) gene was cloned from a bovine genomic library. One major start site of transcription was identified by primer extension analysis with a minor start site four nucleotides further upstream. A putative TATA box is located at position -31, and at position -68 resides a putative binding site for the transcription factor Sp1. Transient transfection of chimeric reporter gene constructs into mouse adrenal tumor Y1 cells was used to locate regions within the P-450scc 5'-flanking sequences that are important for basal and cAMP-dependent transcription of the reporter genes. While cAMP-dependent accumulation of mRNA derived from expression of the endogenous bovine P-450scc gene can be inhibited by protein synthesis inhibitors, transcription of reporter gene constructs containing the promoter/regulatory region of the P-450scc gene is not affected by cycloheximide following transient transfection of Y1 cells or primary bovine adrenocortical cells. Basal expression of these constructs as well as cAMP responsiveness is reduced upon deletion of sequences between -186 and -101, further deletion to -50 leading to loss of virtually all the remaining cAMP responsiveness. The sequence between -183 and -83 alone will direct both basal and cAMP-enhanced transcription when fused to a heterologous promoter and is equally active in either the correct or reverse orientation. No homology to the consensus cAMP-responsive element (CRE) or AP-2 binding site is found in this region whereas an activator protein 1-like sequence is found at position -116. It is concluded that the cAMP responsiveness of P-450scc gene expression is mediated by sequences different from canonical consensus regulatory elements. Whether or not there are sequences conferring cAMP responsiveness which are common both to P-450scc and the other steroidogenic P-450 genes remains to be established.