Background HAND2, a key regulator for the development of the sympathetic nervous system, is located on chromosome 4q33 in a head-to-head orientation with DEIN, a recently identified novel gene with stage specific expression in primary neuroblastoma (NB). Both genes are expressed in primary NB as well as most NB cell lines and are separated by a genomic sequence of 228 bp. The similar expression profile of both genes suggests a common transcriptional regulation mediated by a bidirectional promoter. Results Northern Blot analysis of DEIN and HAND2 in 20 primary NBs indicated concurrent expression levels of the two genes, which was confirmed by microarray analysis of 236 primary NBs (Pearson's correlation coefficient r = 0.65). While DEIN expression in the latter cohort was associated with stage 4S (p = 0.02), HAND2 expression was not associated with tumor stage. In contrast, both HAND2 and DEIN transcript levels were highly associated with age at diagnosis <12 months (p = 0.001). The intergenic region shows substantial homology in different species (89%, 72% and 53% identity between human and mouse, chicken and zebrafish, respectively) and contains many highly conserved putative transcription factor binding sites. Using luciferase reporter gene constructs, asymmetrical bidirectional promoter activity was found in four NB cell lines: In DEIN orientation, an average 3.4 fold increase in activity was observed as compared to the promoterless vector, whereas an average 15.4 fold activation was detected in HAND2 orientation. The presence of two highly conserved putative regulatory elements, one of which was shown to enhance HAND2 expression in branchial arches previously, displayed weak repressor activity for both genes. Conclusion HAND2 and DEIN represent a gene pair that is tightly linked by a bidirectional promoter in an evolutionary highly conserved manner. Expression of both genes in NB is co-regulated by asymmetrical activity of this promoter and modulated by the activity of two cis-regulatory elements acting as weak repressors. The concurrent quantitative and tissue specific expression of HAND2 and DEIN suggests a functional link between both genes.