The consensus recognition element for the mammalian transcription factor AP-1 is very similar to that of the transcriptional activator GCN4. Here, we show that the AP-1 recognition element (ARE) found in the SV40 enhancer can activate transcription from a heterologous promoter in S. cerevisiae. This activation, however, is not dependent on the presence of GCN4 as evidenced by ARE-dependent transcription in a gcn4 yeast strain. A previously unknown yeast transcription factor that is probably responsible for this activation was identified and highly purified. The yeast factor, designated yAP-1, shares remarkably similar biochemical and DNA-binding characteristics with mammalian AP-1. These data suggest that the yeast and mammalian AP-1 are evolutionarily conserved and perhaps functionally related. Also note-worthy is that GCN4 can bind to a GCN4 recognition element (GCRE) and to the ARE with approximately equal affinities; yAP-1, however, has a much lower affinity for the GCRE than the ARE, suggesting that yAP-1 can discriminate between these elements in vivo.