The prokaryotic enhancer-binding protein XylR is the central regulator of the toluene degradation pathway in Pseudomonas species. Copious genetic and biochemical data indicate that the N-terminal domain of the protein (domain A) interacts directly with m-xylene, which renders the protein competent as a transcriptional activator. Single-site and shuffling mutants of XylR or homologues have been reported to change or expand their effector profiles. Here, we follow a fold recognition approach to generate three-dimensional models of the domain A of XylR and DmpR with the purpose of deciphering the molecular activity of this protein family. The model is based on the crystallographic data of the rat catechol O-methyltransferase, a typical alpha/beta fold, consisting of eight alpha-helices and seven beta-strands. The fold identification is supported by physico-chemical properties of conserved amino acids, distribution of residues characteristic of the sequence families and confrontation with experimental data. The model not only provides a rationale for understanding published experimental data, but also suggests the molecular mechanism of the activation step and is a potentially useful conceptual tool for designing regulators with predefined inducer specificities.