AB - A fundamental dilemma of steroid hormone regulation is how specific transcription is attained in vivo when several receptors recognize the same DNA sequence in vitro. We have identified an enhancer of the mouse sex-limited protein (Slp) gene that is activated by androgens but not by glucocorticoids in transfection. Induction requires a consensus hormone response element (HRE) and multiple auxiliary elements within 120 base pairs. Androgen specificity relies on a dual function to augment androgen but prevent glucocorticoid action from a site that both receptors can bind. The nonreceptor factors are the dominant force in transcriptional specificity, although HRE sequence variations can affect the stringency and magnitude of hormonal response. The effect of HRE variations suggests that receptor position is altered relative to the other factors. Thus protein interactions that elicit specific gene regulation are established by the array of DNA elements in a complex enhancer and can be modulated by subtle sequence differences that may influence precise protein contacts.