To investigate the synergism or cooperative interaction between transcription elements, we have designed and constructed a series of synthetic polymerase II promoters with different combinations of elements. These include three different CCAAT boxes, which correspond to the binding sites for CP1, CP2, and NFI, a GC box, a CACCC box, and an ATF/CREB-binding site. The synthetic promoters containing these elements in proximal positions were linked to a test gene (CAT). Tandem repeats of AP1- and AP2-binding sites, the simian virus 40 enhancer, and DNA-binding sites for GAL-estrogen receptor were cloned downstream of the test gene. The strength of these promoters was then tested in transient-expression assays in HeLa TK- cells. In the context of the adenovirus major late promoter TATA box, the promoters containing only certain combinations of elements are active in this assay. Some elements appear to cooperate nearly universally, but others exhibit strong selectivity. These results indicate strongly selective synergistic interactions between elements and suggest that levels of promoter strength may be determined by the extent of compatibility between factors bound to proximal and enhancer sites.