Tyrosinase, tyrosinase-relatad protein-1 (TRP-1), and TRP-2 are the enzymes involved in melanin biosynthesis and are preferentially expressed in pigment cells. Their human gene promoters share the 11-base pair M box containing a CATGTG motif, which was shown here to be bound in vitro by microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF). Transient cotransfection analysis showed that MITF overexpression increased the expression of a reporter gene under the control of the human tyrosinase or TRP-1 gene promoter but not the TRP-2 promoter. The promoter activation caused by MITF is dependent on each CATGTG motif of the distal enhancer element, the M box, and the initiator E box of the tyrosinase gene and the TRP-1 M box. Furthermore, a truncated MITF lacking the carboxyl-terminal 125 amino acid residues transactivated the tyrosinase promoter less efficiently than did MITF, suggesting that MITF's carboxyl terminus contains a transcriptional activation domain, but unexpectedly such a truncated MITF remarkably transactivated the TRP-2 gene promoter. These results suggest that MITF is sufficient to direct pigment cell-specific transcription of the tyrosinase and TRP-1 genes but not the TRP-2 gene.