The human genome contains a variety of elements similar in structure to retroviruses and retrotransposons. We have shown that the long terminal repeat (LTR) sequences of a large family of human retrovirus-like elements, RTVL-H, are heterogeneous in their ability to regulate the expression of linked genes. Although all of five LTRs tested could promote expression of the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene, their relative promoter activities as well as range of activities varied widely. Several of the LTRs tested also exhibited bidirectional promoter activity either alone or when activated by an SV40 early enhancer. One LTR, H6, displayed strong promoter activity in human (NTera2D1, 293, Hep2), monkey (COS-1), and mouse (3T3) cells. In fact, the activity of this LTR was similar to that of the SV40 early promoter/enhancer in 293, COS-1, and 3T3 cells. RNA mapping studies have localized the transcription start site to the expected location in the H6 LTR. RTVL-H LTRs were also shown to contain sequences which could increase transcription from the human beta-globin promoter and be influenced by SV40 enhancer sequences. As the human genome contains several hundred related RTVL-H sequences and a similar number of solitary LTRs, these findings raise the possibility that RTVL-H LTRs could have diverse effects on the expression of adjacent cellular genes.