The macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF) is required for the growth and differentiation of mononuclear phagocytes. Previous studies have demonstrated that tumor necrosis factor (TNF) induces transcription of the M-CSF gene in human myeloid cells. The present work examined the effects of TNF on cis-acting elements in the M-CSF promoter. Deleted forms of the M-CSF promoter were linked to the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene and transfected by electroporation into HL-60 promyelocytic leukemia cells. The results demonstrate that an enhancer responsive to TNF stimulation is located between positions -406 and -344 upstream to the transcription start site. The fragment from positions -419 to -304 was cloned 5′ to the heterologous thymidine kinase (TK) promoter and linked to the CAT gene. Both orientations of this fragment enhanced TK-promoter activity in TNF- treated HL-60 cells. The results of gel mobility shift assays with the - 419 to -304 fragment demonstrate binding of a constitutive nuclear protein. A TNF-inducible protein also bound to this fragment and resulted in a different mobility pattern. Binding of the TNF-induced nuclear protein to the -419 to -304 fragment was inhibited by an oligonucleotide containing the nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B) consensus sequence. DNA footprinting demonstrated protection of an NF- kappa B binding site at positions -377 to -368. Methylation interference assays showed that the TNF-induced protein made contact points with guanine residues in the same NF-kappa B sequence. Taken together, the findings provide evidence for involvement of an NF-kappa B-like factor in transcriptional regulation of the M-CSF gene.