We have identified a novel transcription factor that interacts with the promoter of four tissue-specific late histone H2A-2 and H2B-2 genes of the sea urchin by DNase I footprint, mobility shift, and methylation interference analyses. The binding site for this factor is required for efficient transcription of the H2B-2.1 gene both in vitro in nuclear extracts of gastrula embryos and in vivo in microinjected sea urchin embryos. This factor binds with equal affinity to the recognition sequences of all four histone genes in cross-competition assays. Moreover, the binding site of the H2B-2.2 promoter can functionally substitute for that of the H2B-2.1 gene in in vivo expression experiments. Nevertheless, all four binding sites share little sequence homology with each other. This transcription factor increases in abundance during embryogenesis and has been detected in the adult sea urchin only in the tube feet, where the late H2A-2 and H2B-2 genes are expressed specifically. Therefore, we refer to this factor as tissue-specific activator protein (TSAP). The close correlation between the presence of TSAP and the expression pattern of the late H2A-2 and H2B-2 genes suggests that this transcription factor is directly responsible for the developmental and tissue-specific regulation of these genes.