Through complementation of a trans-acting regulatory mutation a gene has been cloned whose product is required for the formate induction of the anaerobic expression of the formate hydrogenlyase structural genes. By restriction analysis, and from the size of the encoded protein, the gene could be identified as being equivalent to fhlA described by Sankar et al. (1988). The nucleotide sequence of the fhlA gene was determined and it was shown to code for a protein with a calculated Mr of 78,467. Analysis of the derived amino acid sequence showed that the carboxy-terminal domain of FHLA shares considerable sequence similarity with NIFA and NTRC, which are the 'regulators' of two-component regulatory systems. Carboxy-terminal truncation of, and introduction of amino-terminal deletions in, the fhlA gene delivered inactive gene products. When overexpressed, FHLA mediates activation of expression of the formate dehydrogenase and hydrogenase structural genes in the presence of formate also under aerobic growth conditions. FHLA appears to bind to the upstream regulatory sequence (URS) in the 5' flanking region of the fdhF gene since activation of fdhF expression was dependent on the presence of the URS.