cDNA for rat transcription factor IIIA (TFIIIA) was cloned by degenerate PCR and rapid amplification of cDNA ends. This cDNA coded for a protein with nine Cys(2)His(2) zinc fingers and a non-finger C-terminal tail; 63% amino acid (aa) sequence identity was observed with the Xenopus TFIIIA zinc finger region. Recombinant rat protein containing only the nine fingers afforded DNase I protection of the identical nucleotides protected by Xenopus laevis native TFIIIA on the Xenopus 5S RNA gene internal control region. A putative mouse TFIIIA clone was identified in an expressed sequence tag database by sequence similarity to rat TFIIIA. Recombinant nine-finger protein from this clone afforded DNase I protection of the Xenopus 5S rRNA gene like the native frog protein as did a recombinant nine-finger form of a putative human TFIIIA clone. These DNA binding results demonstrate that these clones code for the respective mammalian TFIIIAs. Rodent and human TFIIIAs share about 87% aa sequence identity in their zinc finger regions and have evolved to about the same extent as X. laevis and Xenopus borealis TFIIIAs. A monoclonal antibody against human p53 tumor suppressor bound to rat and mouse TFIIIA but not to human TFIIIA in Western blots. The N-terminal regions of rodent and human TFIIIA do not contain the oocyte-specific initiating Met and accompanying conserved residues found in fish and amphibian TFIIIAs. In their non-finger C-terminal tails, mammalian and amphibian TFIIIAs share a conserved transcription activation domain as well as conserved nuclear localization and nuclear export signals.