The rat beta-tropomyosin gene encodes two tissue-specific isoforms that contain the internal, mutually exclusive exons 6 (nonmuscle/smooth muscle) and 7 (skeletal muscle). We previously demonstrated that the 3' splice site of exon 6 can be activated by introducing a 9-nt polyuridine tract at its 3' splice site, or by strengthening the 5' splice site to a U1 consensus binding site, or by joining exon 6 to the downstream common exon 8. Examination of sequences within exons 6 and 8 revealed the presence of two purine-rich motifs in exon 6 and three purine-rich motifs in exon 8 that could potentially represent exonic splicing enhancers (ESEs). In this report we carried out substitution mutagenesis of these elements and show that some of them play a critical role in the splice site usage of exon 6 in vitro and in vivo. Using UV crosslinking, we have identified SF2/ASF as one of the cellular factors that binds to these motifs. Furthermore, we show that substrates that have mutated ESEs are blocked prior to A-complex formation, supporting a role for SF2/ASF binding to the ESEs during the commitment step in splicing. Using pre-mRNA substrates containing exons 5 through 8, we show that the ESEs within exon 6 also play a role in cooperation between the 3' and 5' splice sites flanking this exon. The splicing of exon 6 to 8 (i.e., 5' splice site usage of exon 6) was enhanced with pre-mRNAs containing either the polyuridine tract in the 3' splice site or consensus sequence in the 5' splice site around exon 6. We show that the ESEs in exon 6 are required for this effect. However, the ESEs are not required when both the polyuridine and consensus splice site sequences around exon 6 were present in the same pre-mRNA. These results support and extend the exon-definition hypothesis and demonstrate that sequences at the 3' splice site can facilitate use of a downstream 5' splice site. In addition, the data support the hypothesis that ESEs can compensate for weak splice sites, such as those found in alternatively spliced exons, thereby providing a target for regulation.