We have compared the function of the human alpha-, beta- and delta-globin genes using various plasmid expression vectors derived from pBR322. Amplification of recombinants occurred after their introduction, by calcium-phosphate-mediated DNA transfer, into monkey kidney cells that constitutively produce T antigen (COS cells). The human alpha-globin gene promoter functioned independently, but the beta-globin gene promoter was nearly totally dependent on the enhancing activity of the 72 bp direct repeats from the SV40 genome. Furthermore, when the human alpha- and beta-globin genes were linked in the same vector, the alpha promoter was active but the beta promoter was not. Function of the delta-globin gene promoter also depended on the enhancer element. In vectors containing the 72 bp repeats and the beta- or delta-globin gene, the activity of the beta-globin gene was approximately 50 times greater than that of the delta-globin gene, approximating the ratio of beta and delta mRNA observed in normal human bone marrow cells.