The structure and function of the promoter region and exon 1 of the murine hck gene have been characterized in detail. RNase protection analysis has established that hck transcripts initiate from heterogeneous start sites located within the hck gene. Fusion gene constructs containing hck 5'-flanking sequences and the bacterial Neor gene have been introduced into the hematopoietic cell lines FDC-P1 and WEHI-265 by using a self-inactivating retroviral vector. The transcriptional start sites of the fusion gene are essentially identical to those of the endogenous hck gene. Analysis of infected WEHI-265 cell lines treated with bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS) reveals a 3- to 5-fold elevation in the levels of endogenous hck mRNA and a 1.4- to 2.6-fold increase in the level of Neor fusion gene transcripts, indicating that hck 5'-flanking sequences are capable of conferring LPS responsiveness on the Neor gene. The 5'-flanking region of the hck gene contains sequences similar to an element which is thought to be involved in the LPS responsiveness of the class II major histocompatibility gene A alpha k. A subset of these sequences are also found in the 5'-flanking regions of other LPS-responsive genes. Moreover, this motif is related to the consensus binding sequence of NF-kappa B, a transcription factor which is known to be regulated by LPS.