We have characterized two genes of the Escherichia coli K-12 gab cluster, which encodes the enzymes of the 4-aminobutyrate degradation pathway. The nucleotide sequence of gabT, coding for glutamate:succinic semialdehyde transaminase (EC 188.8.131.52), alternatively known as 4-aminobutyrate transaminase, was determined. The structural gene consists of 1,281 nucleotides specifying a protein of 426 amino acids with a molecular mass of 45.76 kDa. The protein shows significant homologies to the ornithine transaminases from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and from rat and human mitochondria. Three functionally and structurally important amino acid residues of the transaminase were identified by sequence comparison studies, and evolutionary relationships of the aminotransferases are discussed. The gabD gene, encoding succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase (EC 184.108.40.206), was cloned and shown to be located adjacent to the 5' end of gabT. Expression studies with subfragments of the initially cloned DNA region revealed a maximal size of 1.7 kb for gabD. Both genes are cotranscribed from a promoter located upstream of gabD.