Metaxin (Mtx) is an essential nuclear gene which is expressed ubiquitously in mice and encodes a mitochondrial protein. The gene is located upstream and is transcribed divergently from the thrombospondin 3 (Thbs3) gene; 1352 nucleotides separate the putative translation start sites. Although the Mtx and Thbs3 genes share a common intergenic region, transient transfection experiments in rat chondro-sarcoma cells and in NIH-3T3 fibroblasts demonstrated that the elements required for expression of the Mtx gene are situated within a short proximal promoter and have no major effect on the transcription of Thbs3. The metaxin --377 bp promoter contains four clustered GC boxes between nucleotides --146 and --58 and an inverted GT box between nucleotides --152 and --161, but does not contain TATA or CCAAT boxes. Like many genes regulated by a TATA-less promoter, the transcription start site of metaxin is heterogeneous. The major start site is only 13 bp upstream from the putative translation start site. Electrophoretic mobility shift, competition and supershift assays showed that the ubiquitous transcription factor, Sp1, and, to a lesser extent, the Sp1-related protein, Sp3, bind to four of these Sp1-binding motifs. Co-transfection of metaxin promoter-luciferase constructs and an Sp1 expression vector into Schneider Drosophila cells, which do not synthesize Sp1, demonstrated that the metaxin gene is activated by Sp1. Deletion of the four upstream Sp1-binding elements, on the other hand, demonstrated that these motifs are superfluous in context of the larger Mtx promoter. Thus, despite the potential for common regulatory mechanisms, the available evidence indicates that the Mtx minimal promoter does not significantly affect Thbs3 gene expression.