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In vivo there appears to be a marked association between oestrogen levels and the expression of the oxytocin (OT) gene in most tissues. Transfection and DNA-protein binding experiments using high levels of either oestrogen receptor (ER)α or ERβ imply a direct interaction of these transcription factors with the multiple hormone response element (HRE) at approximately −160 from the transcription start site of the OT gene in most species. In an extensive set of experiments, we show, using both transfection and protein-DNA binding, that low to moderate amounts of either oestrogen receptor, while being able to interact directly with a classic oestrogen response element (ERE) fail to interact with the human OT −160 HRE. Instead, this element, similar to its bovine counterpart, has a high affinity for the orphan receptors steroidogenic factor 1 and chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factor. Second, the human and bovine OT promoter can be made artificially responsive towards oestrogen in a cotransfection system over-expressing ERα or ERβ, but not in cells expressing natural levels of these steroid receptors. Interestingly, nuclear extracts from both ERα-positive MCF7 cells and ERα-negative MDA-MB231 cells both contain a transcription factor which binds specifically to both the hOT-HRE element and to a classic ERE, and which has orphan receptor-like binding properties rather than those of an oestrogen receptor. Together, these and other results suggest that oestrogen action in vivo on the OT gene in all species is more likely to involve a DNA-independent mechanism than classic direct interactions with dimeric oestrogen receptors.