Abstract Tartrate-resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP) is highly expressed in osteoclasts and in a subset of tissue macrophages and dendritic cells. It is expressed at lower levels in the parenchymal cells of the liver, glomerular mesangial cells of the kidney and pancreatic acinar cells. We have identified novel TRAP mRNAs that differ in their 5′-untranslated region (5′-UTR) sequence, but align with the known murine TRAP mRNA from the first base of Exon 2. The novel 5′-UTRs represent alternative first exons located upstream of the known 5′-UTR. A similar genomic structure exists for the human TRAP gene with partial conservation of the exon and promoter sequences. Expression of the most distal 5′-UTR (Exon 1A) is restricted to adult bone and spleen tissue. Exon 1B is expressed primarily in tissues containing TRAP-positive non-haematopoietic cells. The known TRAP 5′-UTR (Exon 1C) is expressed in tissues characteristic of myeloid cell expression. In addition the Exon 1C promoter sequence is shown to comprise distinct transcription start regions, with an osteoclast-specific transcription initiation site identified downstream of a TATA-like element. Macrophages are shown to initiate transcription of the Exon 1C transcript from a purine-rich region located upstream of the osteoclast-specific transcription start point. The distinct expression patterns for each of the TRAP 5′-UTRs suggest that TRAP mRNA expression is regulated by the use of four alternative tissue- and cell-restricted promoters.