The beta-subunit of S100 protein (S100 beta) is highly conserved in the mammalian brain. The gene coding for human S100 beta has been mapped to chromosome 21. In order to study the consequences of overexpression of the S100 beta gene, transgenic mice were generated by microinjection of a 17.3 kilobase human genomic fragment containing the three exons and the transcription control elements of the human S100 beta gene. Mice from four transgenic lines carried approximately 10–100 transgene copies. Northern blotting demonstrated a tissue-specific and gene dose- dependent expression of human S100 beta mRNA in mouse brain. Increased expression of S100 beta mRNA was correlated with an increased production of S100 beta protein. Examination of brain sections by in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry indicated that S100 beta was localized globally to astrocytes, as well as to discrete neurons in the mesencephalic and motor trigeminal, facial, and lemniscus nuclei in both normal and transgenic mice. In peripheral tissues, human S100 beta was expressed at 10–50-fold lower levels than in brain. The strict gene dosage dependence and cell specificity of transgene expression suggest the presence of a locus control region (LCR) in the human S100 beta gene. The mice tolerated 10–100-fold higher than normal levels of S100 beta gene expression in brain without any gross physical or behavioral abnormalities. The high-level expression and cell specificity of the S100 beta promoter/LCR suggest that it may provide a valuable tool to direct the expression of other transgenic products to specific cell types in the CNS.