The hepatic expression of the alpha-2u-globulin gene family is controlled by a variety of hormones including steroids, growth hormone and insulin. The mechanisms by which these hormones affect alpha 2u-globulin expression are only partially understood. Recently we isolated and characterized clone RAP 01, an alpha 2u-globulin gene expressed in the liver. In preliminary experiments we noted that partial hepatectomy, a procedure which results in a sharp rise in the level of the oncoproteins c-Fos and c-Jun, also causes a transient induction of the messenger RNA corresponding to clone RAP 01. Using the DNAseI footprinting technique we were able to show that this clone contains a TPA (phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate)-responsive element (TRE) in its first intron. This element (denoted as element X) is identical to the consensus AP-1 binding site (TGACTCAG) and is protected by rat liver nuclear extracts as well as by purified c-Jun. Gel retardation experiments show that an oligonucleotide containing the TRE consensus sequence competes for binding of liver nuclear proteins to element X and that antibodies directed against the M2 peptide of the mouse Fos protein or the PEP-2 peptide of Jun prevent the formation of specific complexes with the same element. Moreover, element X functions as a TRE in transfected BWTG3 hepatoma cells treated with TPA. Co-transfection with fos and jun expression vectors mimics the effects of TPA suggesting that AP-1 is in fact the mediator of the observed response. It is concluded that the first intron of RAP 01 contains a functional Fos-Jun element.