Nuclear respiratory factor 1 (NRF-1) was first discovered as an activator of the cytochrome c gene and was subsequently found to play a broader role in nuclear-mitochondrial interactions. We have now cloned a HeLa cDNA encoding NRF-1 using degenerate oligomers derived from tryptic peptide sequences for PCR amplification. The cDNA-encoded protein was indistinguishable from the authentic HeLa cell factor on denaturing gels, displayed the expected NRF-1 DNA-binding specificity, and made the same guanine nucleotide contacts as HeLa NRF-1 on binding known NRF-1 recognition sites. Antiserum raised against the highly purified recombinant protein recognized the identical DNA-protein complex formed using either a crude nuclear fraction or nearly homogeneous HeLa NRF-1. Recombinant NRF-1 also activated transcription through specific sites from several NRF-1-responsive promoters, confirming both the transcriptional activity and specificity of the cDNA product. Portions of NRF-1 are closely related to sea urchin P3A2 and the erect wing (EWG) protein of Drosophila. Both are recently identified developmental regulatory factors. The region of highest sequence identity with P3A2 and EWG was in the amino-terminal half of the molecule, which was found by deletion mapping to contain the DNA-binding domain, whereas the carboxy-terminal half of NRF-1 was highly divergent from both proteins. The DNA-binding domain in these molecules is unrelated to motifs found commonly in DNA-binding proteins; thus, NRF-1, P3A2, and EWG represent the founding members of a new class of highly conserved sequence-specific regulatory factors.