Transcriptional induction by cAMP is mediated through the interaction of the cAMP response-element binding protein (CREB) with a cAMP response element (CRE) in the promoter of target genes. The steroidogenic acute regulatory (StAR) protein gene is regulated by cAMP-mediated signaling in steroidogenic cells even though its promoter lacks a consensus CRE. Previously, we have identified three highly conserved 5'-CRE half-sites within the -96/-67 bp region of the mouse StAR gene, and a member of the CREB family (CREB/CRE modulator (CREM)) was shown to be involved in its expression and regulation. Here we show that CREB and CREMtau (but not CREMalpha and CREMbeta) have qualitatively similar effects on StAR promoter activity in response to (Bu)(2)cAMP. Studies on the effects of the functional integrity of the CRE half-sites on CREB-dependent (Bu)(2)cAMP-mediated StAR gene transcription demonstrated the greater importance of the CRE2 site in comparison with the CRE1 and CRE3 sites. The CRE2 sequence was also found to bind specifically to recombinant CREB protein and nuclear extract from MA-10 mouse Leydig tumor cells. The cAMP and CREB/CREM responsive region (-151/-1 bp) of the mouse StAR promoter also contains three recognition motifs for steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1). Electrophoretic mobility shift assays and reporter gene analyses demonstrated the involvement of different SF-1 elements in StAR gene expression with the order of importance being SF-1/3>SF-1/1>SF-1/2. Specific mutations that eliminated the binding sites of CRE and SF-1 elements, either alone or in combination, resulted in an attenuation of StAR promoter activity, indicating that CREB and SF-1 can regulate StAR gene transcription in a cooperative fashion. In addition, mammalian two-hybrid assays revealed a high affinity protein-protein interaction between CREB/CREMtau and SF-1 which appeared to be dependent upon CREB protein phosphorylation. These findings further demonstrate CREB's role in StAR gene transcription and also provide evidence that the combined action of CREB/CREMtau and SF-1 results in enhanced activation of the StAR promoter.