Tissue-specific expression patterns of the paired type IV collagen genes COL4A5 and COL4A6 form the basis for organ involvement in X-linked Alport syndrome, a disorder in which these genes are mutated. We investigated the proximal promoter region of COL4A5 and COL4A6 using glomerular visceral epithelial cells, in which COL4A5 alone is transcribed; keratinocytes, in which the genes are co-transcribed; and additional model cell lines. By RNase protection assays, the intergenic region is 292 base pairs. Transcription start sites for two 5′ splice variants of COL4A6 are 1 kilobase apart. Transient transfections with reporter gene constructs revealed that the minimal promoters for COL4A5 and COL4A6 are within 100 base pairs of their respective transcription start sites and are functionally distinct. In further transfection, gel shift and footprinting assays, we defined a bidirectional positive regulatory element, which functions in several cell types, but not in glomerular visceral epithelial cells selectively transcribing COL4A5. The existence of separate promoters for COL4A5 and COL4A6 permits fine control over their expression. Activation through the bidirectional element can bring about co-expression of the genes, exploiting their paired arrangement. Features of the proximal promoter region frame its roles in a hierarchy regulating type IV collagen gene expression.