Small heat shock proteins are induced by various stresses. We here report the differential hypoxia responses of the hsp-16 genes in the nematode. The hsp-16.1 and hsp-16.2 genes in Caenorhabditis elegans responded to hypoxia, while hsp-16.41 and hsp-16.48, which share the promoter regions with hsp-16.1 and hsp-16.2, respectively, did not. For comparative genomic analysis, we identified ten hsp-16 genes in the nematode C.briggsae from the genome database. The comparison of the promoter sequences revealed a new conserved sequence block, CAC(A/T)CT, that was required for the orientation-dependent hypoxia response, but not for other stress responses such as heat or ethanol. We propose a working model for the orientation-dependent promoter usage between two genes sharing the promoter region. We also discuss a possible application of the hypoxia-inducible promoter for conditional gene expression.