Previous transgenic mouse experiments localized the mammalian rhodopsin gene promoter to a region just upstream of the mRNA start site, and also suggested the existence of a second more distal regulatory region. A highly conserved 100-base pair (bp) sequence which is homologous to the red and green opsin locus control region is located 1.5-2 kilobases upstream of the rhodopsin gene (depending on the species). In order to test the activity of this 100-bp region, transgenic mice were generated with bovine rhodopsin promoter/lacZ constructs which differed only by the presence or absence of the sequence. Of 11 lines generated, all demonstrated photoreceptor-specific expression of the transgene, but the lines with the putative regulatory region showed significantly higher expression. Additional transgenic lines in which the region was fused to a minimal heterologous promoter did not show transgene expression in the retina. Gel mobility shift and DNase I footprint assays demonstrated that bovine retinal nuclear extracts contain retina- specific as well as ubiquitously expressed factors that interact with the putative regulatory region in a sequence-specific manner. These results indicate that the 100-bp sequence can indeed function in vivo as a rhodopsin enhancer region.