By screening a lambda gt11 library with the multimerized sequence of the cAMP response element (CRE), we isolated human clones encoding the CRE binding protein, CRE-BP1, from a human brain cDNA library. CRE-BP1 expressed in Escherichia coli bound not only to the CRE element of the somatostatin and fibronectin genes, but also to the CRE element of the adenovirus E4 gene, suggesting that the protein was not distinguishable from the adenovirus transcription factor, ATF. The human CRE-BP1 clone encoded a 54.5 kd protein similar at its carboxy terminus to the leucine zipper motifs found in other enhancer binding proteins such as C/EBP and c-jun/AP-1. CRE-BP1 mRNA was expressed in all of the cells examined and was abundant in brain. The structure of CRE-BP1 and its recognition elements suggest that cellular response to extracellular stimuli is controlled by a family of transcription factors that bind to related cis-active elements and that contain several highly conserved domains.