The molecular specificity of the receptors for steroid and thyroid hormones is achieved by their selective interaction with DNA binding sites referred to as hormone response elements (HREs). HREs can differ in primary nucleotide sequence as well as in the spacing of their dyadic half-sites. The target gene specificity of the glucocorticoid receptor can be converted to that of the estrogen receptor by changing three amino acids clustered in the first zinc finger. Remarkably, a single Gly to Glu change in this region produces a receptor that recognizes both glucocorticoid and estrogen response elements. Further replacement of five amino acids in the stem of the second zinc finger transforms the specificity to that of the thyroid hormone receptor. These findings localize structural determinants required for discrimination of HRE sequence and half-site spacing, respectively, and suggest a simple pathway for the coevolution of receptor DNA binding domains and hormone-responsive gene networks.