The biochemical basis for the regulation of fibre-type determination in skeletal muscle is not well understood. In addition to the expression of particular myofibrillar proteins, type I (slow-twitch) fibres are much higher in mitochondrial content and are more dependent on oxidative metabolism than type II (fast-twitch) fibres. We have previously identified a transcriptional co-activator, peroxisome-proliferator-activated receptor-gamma co-activator-1 (PGC-1 alpha), which is expressed in several tissues including brown fat and skeletal muscle, and that activates mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative metabolism. We show here that PGC-1 alpha is expressed preferentially in muscle enriched in type I fibres. When PGC-1 alpha is expressed at physiological levels in transgenic mice driven by a muscle creatine kinase (MCK) promoter, a fibre type conversion is observed: muscles normally rich in type II fibres are redder and activate genes of mitochondrial oxidative metabolism. Notably, putative type II muscles from PGC-1 alpha transgenic mice also express proteins characteristic of type I fibres, such as troponin I (slow) and myoglobin, and show a much greater resistance to electrically stimulated fatigue. Using fibre-type-specific promoters, we show in cultured muscle cells that PGC-1 alpha activates transcription in cooperation with Mef2 proteins and serves as a target for calcineurin signalling, which has been implicated in slow fibre gene expression. These data indicate that PGC-1 alpha is a principal factor regulating muscle fibre type determination.