The erythroid-specific isoform of 5-aminolevulinate synthase (ALAS2) catalyzes the rate-limiting step in heme biosynthesis. The hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) transcriptionally up-regulates erythropoietin, transferrin, and transferrin receptor, leading to increased erythropoiesis and hematopoietic iron supply. To test the hypothesis that ALAS2 expression might be regulated by a similar mechanism, we exposed murine erythroleukemia cells to hypoxia (1% O(2)) and found an up to 3-fold up-regulation of ALAS2 mRNA levels and an increase in cellular heme content. A fragment of the ALAS2 promoter ranging from -716 to +1 conveyed hypoxia responsiveness to a heterologous luciferase reporter gene construct in transiently transfected HeLa cells. In contrast, iron depletion, known to induce HIF-1 activity but inhibit ALAS2 translation, did not increase ALAS2 promoter activity. Mutation of a previously predicted HIF-1-binding site (-323/-318) within this promoter fragment and DNA-binding assays revealed that hypoxic up-regulation is independent of this putative HIF-1 DNA-binding site.