Human melanoma cell lines have been used to examine the regulation of the tyrosinase (TYR) and tyrosinase-related protein genes TRP-1 and TRP-2 in response to differentiating chemicals and UV irradiation. TRP-1 mRNA levels can be repressed by treatment with the differentiating chemicals DMSO and HMBA. There is little effect of UV irradiation on pigment synthesis by human melanoma cell lines or tyrosinase activity, with variable effects on the levels of the TYR, TRP-1, and TRP-2 gene transcripts. The human TRP-1 gene promoter has been isolated and its activity tested by transient cell transfection to begin an examination of signal transduction mechanisms operating in response to pigmenting and differentiating agents. To identify transcription factors that may be involved in melanocytic gene expression, we studied the N-Oct-3 and N-Oct-5 octamer-binding activities normally expressed in the neuroectodermal cell lineage and which are expressed at high levels in melanoma cells. POU-domain-containing cDNA have been isolated from the A2058 human melanoma cell line that are homologous to the brn-2 gene that encodes N-Oct-3 and N-Oct-5.