We proposed that a cell-selective regulatory protein coordinately regulates the expression of three enzymes that are required for the biosynthesis of corticosteroids: cholesterol side chain cleavage enzyme, steroid 21-hydroxylase, and the aldosterone synthase isozyme of steroid 11 beta-hydroxylase. In this report, we identify a 53-kilodalton protein, termed steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1), that interacts with the related promoter elements from these steroidogenic enzymes, and we isolate and characterize a cDNA that very likely encodes this protein. We first showed that nuclear extracts from bovine adrenal glands interact with the mouse steroidogenic regulatory elements, forming complexes indistinguishable from those produced by nuclear extracts from mouse Y1 adrenocortical cells. These bovine adrenal extracts were subjected to sequential ion exchange and affinity chromatography to yield a highly enriched preparation of SF-1. The predominant protein in the affinity-purified preparation comigrated with shift activity and had a mol wt of 53,000; UV cross-linking experiments demonstrated directly that this 53-kilodalton protein interacted with the steroidogenic regulatory element. Even with this marked enrichment, affinity-purified SF-1 bound six steroidogenic regulatory elements. These results support strongly the model that a steroidogenic cell-selective protein interacts with related promoter elements from three steroidogenic enzymes to regulate their coordinate expression. The recognition sequence of SF-1 closely resembles those of nuclear hormone receptor family members, suggesting that SF-1 may belong to this supergene family. By screening a Y1 cell cDNA library with the DNA-binding region of the H-2RIIBP nuclear hormone receptor cDNA, we isolated a cDNA that is selectively expressed in steroidogenic cells. When expressed as a glutathione S-transferase fusion protein in Escherichia. coli, the protein encoded by this cDNA interacts with all six related steroidogenic regulatory elements with a binding specificity indistinguishable from that of SF-1. Surprisingly, the sequence of the putative DNA-binding domain of this cDNA matches exactly the corresponding sequence of the mouse homolog of the Drosophila transcription factor fushi tarazu-factor I. The demonstration that a member of the nuclear hormone receptor family interacts with the steroidogenic regulatory elements provides intriguing insights into possible mechanisms by which these essential genes are regulated.