The tal-1 gene, frequently activated in human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), is expressed in the erythroid, megakaryocytic, and mast cell lineages during normal hematopoiesis. To gain further insight into the molecular mechanisms that control tal-1 expression, we investigated tal-1 chromatin structure in erythroid/megakaryocytic cell lines and in T-cell lines either with or without tal-1 rearrangements. Tal-1 transcription was shown to be monoallelic in Jurkat, a T-cell line that expresses tal-1 in the absence of apparent genomic alteration of the locus. Methylation studies indicated that the tal-152 GC-rich region behaves like a CpG island, hypomethylated in normal cells, and methylated de novo on transcriptionally inactive alleles in established cell lines. Five major DNase-I hypersensitive sites (HS) were mapped in the tal-1 locus. HS I, IV, and V were exclusively observed in the erythroid/megakaryocytic cell lines that express tal-1 from the promoters 1a and 1b. HS II was weak in hematopoietic cell lines, absent in Hela, and greatly enhanced in Jurkat, suggesting that this region might be implicated in the cis-activation of tal-1 promoter 1b in this cell line. HS III was weak in HEL and Jurkat, and greatly enhanced in DU528, a T-cell line that bears a t (1;14) and initiates tal-1 transcription within exon 4. These results suggest that distinct regulatory elements are associated with the use of the different tal-1 promoters.