A novel procedure for saturation mutagenesis of cloned DNA was used to obtain more than 100 single base substitutions within the promoter of the mouse β-major globin gene. The effects of these promoter substitutions on transcription were determined by transfecting the cloned mutant genes into HeLa cells on plasmids containing an SV40 transcription enhancer, and measuring the levels of correctly initiated β-globin transcripts after 2 days. Mutations in three regions of the promoter resulted in a significant decrease in the level of transcription: (i) the CACCC box, located between -87 and -95, (ii) the CCAAT box, located between -72 and -77, and (iii) the TATA box, located between -26 and -30 relative to the start site of transcription. In contrast, two different mutations in nucleotides immediately upstream from the CCAAT box resulted in a 3- to 3.5-fold increase in transcription. With two minor exceptions, single base substitutions in all other regions of the promoter had no effect on transcription. These results precisely delineate the cis-acting sequences required for accurate and efficient initiation of β-globin transcription, and they establish a general approach for the fine structure genetic analysis of eukaryotic regulatory sequences.