Recent reports indicate that apolipoprotein (apo) A-II, the second most abundant protein of high-density lipoproteins, plays a crucial role in counteracting the beneficial effect of apo A-I against atherogenesis. Transcription of the human apo A-II gene is controlled by an enhancer comprising 14 regulatory elements located upstream of its promoter whereas the first intron of this gene behaves as a silencer. Here we show that two sequence elements account for the repressive activity of this intron and correspond to negative regulatory elements termed NRE I and NRE II. The activity of intron I and the nuclear proteins binding to NRE I and II are encountered in hepatic cells but not in non-hepatic cells studied here. Both NREs form nucleoprotein complexes of very similar physicochemical characteristics and bind the same or closely related proteins. Site-directed mutagenesis, transient transfection and gel-shift analysis experiments indicate that both NREs exhibit similar structures, being composed of two sites required for maximal activity and optimal binding of transcription factors. Therefore two negative regulatory elements of similar structure and function, placed in tandem, account for the repressive activity of the first intron of the human apo A-II gene. These NREs do not exhibit structural similarity with known NREs of other genes.