To determine the mechanisms of expression of the rat caeruloplasmin gene, the promoter region was analysed by DNAase I footprinting. Using nuclear extract from rat liver, a prominent site of protein-DNA interaction was detected from -93 to -48 upstream of the caeruloplasmin gene transcription start and sequence analysis of this region revealed three potential CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein (C/EBP) consensus elements. Mobility-shift analysis using an oligonucleotide encoding this region identified specific binding of proteins from rat liver nuclear extract, and some of these complexes were supershifted using antisera to the C/EBP alpha and beta family members. Mobility-shift studies using a polypeptide encoding the DNA-binding domain of C/EBP alpha also revealed a specific interaction with this region of the caeruloplasmin promoter, and DNAase I footprinting using this polypeptide protected the identical region from -93 to -48. Co-transfection of expression plasmids encoding C/EBP alpha or a related leucine-zipper factor D-binding protein (DBP) revealed a C/EBP-specific increase in reporter gene activity in HepG2 cells transfected with caeruloplasmin-chloramphenicol acetyltransferase containing the -93 to -48 region. A similar result was obtained when these constructs were co-transfected into mouse L cells which were shown not to express the endogenous caeruloplasmin gene. Taken together, these data indicate a role for C/EBP alpha and beta in mediating transcription from the caeruloplasmin gene promoter and suggest that this region of the promoter is not responsible for tissue-specific expression.