A segment of the human alpha 1-antitrypsin (alpha 1AT) 5'-flanking region comprising nucleotides -137 to -37 from the start of transcription is sufficient to drive liver-specific transcription from the homologous alpha 1AT promoter and from the heterologous SV40 promoter. In this paper we characterize two proteins, LF-A1 and LF-B1, whose ability to bind wild-type and mutant alpha 1AT promoter segments correlates with the ability of these segments to activate transcription in vivo. DNase I protection and methylation interference analysis reveals that LF-A1 recognizes sequences present in the regulatory region of the human alpha 1-antitrypsin, apolipoprotein A1 and haptoglobin-related genes. These sequences share a common 5' TGG/A A/C CC 3' motif. LF-B1 binds to the palindrome 5' TGGTTAAT/ATTCACCA 3' which is present in the human alpha 1-antitrypsin gene between positions -78 and -62 from the start of transcription. LF-B1 also recognizes a related sequence present in the human albumin gene between -66 and -50. These results suggest that LF-A1 and LF-B1 are common positive trans-acting factors which are required for the expression of several genes in the hepatocyte.