The DNA binding protein, GlnR, encoded by glnR, is believed to be directly responsible for regulating glnRA expression in Bacillus subtilis. Identification of cis-acting loci involved in glnRA control is the focus of this study. Analysis of glnRA-lacZ transcriptional fusions harboring deletions extending into the promoter region demonstrated that sequences upstream from position -35, relative to the transcription start-point, were necessary for nitrogen source regulation. These sequences included a 21 base-pair (bp) element, from positions -40 to -60, having 2-fold symmetry; the element shares homology to certain binding sites utilized by proteins having the alpha-helix-turn-alpha-helix motif, of which GlnR is a member. Involvement of this element in regulation was examined by using synthetic DNA fragments containing the promoter and upstream sequences driving lacZ expression. Fragments extending from positions -63 to -8 and from positions -52 to -8 yielded full and partial regulation, respectively. Regulation from a fragment containing a 5 bp insertion between positions -36 and -37 was impaired. A T.A to A.T transversion mutation at position -41 did not have any detectable effect on regulation, whereas a T.A to C.G transition mutation at the same site resulted in constitutive expression. Using a gel electrophoresis mobility shift assay, it was found that purified GlnR bound to a glnRA restriction fragment that extended from positions -104 to +83; binding was abolished after digestion with HinfI, which cleaves between positions -52 and -48. Furthermore, HinfI digestion was inhibited by the presence of GlnR. Thus, the GlnR binding site extends from the vicinity of position -35 upstream to position -63. We suggest that the glnRA operator is the 21 bp sequence lying within this region.