Background Bile acid (BA) homeostasis is mainly regulated by bile salt excretory pump (BSEP), a hepatocyte transporter that transfers BAs to the bile. BSEP expression is regulated by BA levels through activation of farnesoid X receptor transcription factor, which binds to the inverted repeat (IR-1) element in the BSEP promoter. Gene therapy of cholestatic diseases could benefit from using vectors carrying endogenous promoters physiologically regulated by BAs, however their large size limits this approach, especially when using adeno-associated viral vector (AAV) vectors. Results We evaluated the functionality and BA-mediated regulation of minimal versions of human and mouse BSEP promoters containing IR-1 using AAV vectors expressing luciferase. Unexpectedly, a minimal mouse BSEP promoter (imPr) showed higher BA-mediated expression and inducibility than a minimal human promoter (ihPr) or than full-length BSEP promoters in human hepatic cells. In addition, in mice receiving an AAV8 vector carrying imPr promoter-driven luciferase expression was efficiently regulated by administration of a BA-enriched diet. Interestingly, this vector also expressed significantly higher luciferase levels in Abcb4(-/-) mice, which have high levels of BAs, compared to wild type mice, or to mice receiving a vector containing the luciferase gene downstream of the constitutive alpha-1 antitrypsin promoter. In contrast, the AAV vector containing ihPr showed very low luciferase expression with no inducibility. Finally, we optimized imPr by adding three IR-1 repeats at its 5 ' end. This new promoter provided higher levels of luciferase than imPr both in vitro and in vivo. Conclusions The imPr could represent a useful tool for gene therapy approaches in which physiological BA regulation is desired.