The eukaryotic genome is partitioned into chromatin domains containing coding and intergenic regions. Insulators have been suggested to play a role in establishing and maintaining chromatin domains. Here we describe the identification and characterization of two separable enhancer blocking elements located in the 5' flanking region of the chicken alpha-globin domain, 11-16 kb upstream of the embryonic alpha-type pi gene in a DNA fragment harboring a MAR (matrix attachment region) element and three DNase I hypersensitive sites (HSs). The most upstream enhancer blocking element co-localizes with the MAR element and an erythroid-specific HS. The second enhancer blocking element roughly co-localizes with a constitutive HS. The third erythroid-specific HS present within the DNA fragment studied harbors a silencing, but not an enhancer blocking, activity. The 11 zinc-finger CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF), which plays an essential role in enhancer blocking activity in many previously characterized vertebrate insulators, is found to bind the two alpha-globin enhancer blocking elements. Detailed analysis has demonstrated that mutation of the CTCF binding site within the most upstream enhancer blocking element abolishes the enhancer blocking activity. The results are discussed with respect to special features of the tissue-specific alpha-globin gene domain located in a permanently open chromatin area.