The rabbit cardiac/slow twitch muscle sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ ATPase (SERCA2) gene encodes a Ca2+ transport pump whose expression is regulated during skeletal/cardiac muscle development and by different pathophysiological states of the heart. This study was designed to delineate cis-acting regulatory elements involved in SERCA2 gene expression. A series of unidirectionally deleted fragments of the upstream 1,460 bp SERCA2 promoter were linked to the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene. Transient DNA transfection experiments performed with these constructs in C2C12 muscle cells and NIH3T3 fibroblasts revealed a 17 bp upstream promoter element (UPE) important for transcription of the SERCA2 gene in skeletal muscle cells. These studies have also identified a strong (muscle specific) negative regulatory region located upstream of nucleotide -658. Gel mobility shift and southwestern analyses using the 17 bp UPE have revealed a specific DNA binding complex referred to as Ca2+ ATPase promoter factor -1 (CaPF1). The binding factor has an approximate M(r) of 43 kDa. Comparison of CaPF1 with known transcription factors suggests that the CaPF1 complex may be a novel DNA-binding transcription factor which plays a role in SERCA2 gene regulation in vivo.