The rat beta-tropomyosin (beta-TM) gene encodes both skeletal muscle beta-TM and fibroblast TM-1 by an alternative RNA-splicing mechanism. This gene contains 11 exons. Exons 1-5, 8, and 9 are common to all mRNAs expressed from the gene. Exons 6 and 11 are used in fibroblasts as well as smooth muscle cells, whereas exons 7 and 10 are used in skeletal muscle cells. In this study we have carried out an extensive mutational analysis to identify cis-acting elements that block the use of the skeletal muscle-specific exon 7 in nonmuscle cells. These studies localize the critical elements for regulated alternative splicing to sequences within exon 7 and the adjacent upstream intron. In addition, mutations that inactivate the 5'- or 3'- splice sites of exon 6 do not result in the use of the skeletal muscle-specific exon 7 in nonmuscle cells, suggesting that splice-site selection in vivo is not regulated by a simple cis-acting competition mechanism but, rather, by a mechanism that inhibits the use of exon 7 in certain cellular environments. In support of this hypothesis we have identified sequence-specific RNA-binding proteins in HeLa cell nuclear extracts using native gel electrophoresis and binding competition assays. Mutations in the pre-mRNA that result in the use of the skeletal muscle exon in vivo also disrupt the binding of these proteins to the RNA in vitro. We propose that the binding of these proteins to the pre-mRNA is involved in regulated alternative splicing and that this interaction is required for blocking the use of the skeletal muscle exon in nonmuscle cells.