Normal liver and differentiated hepatoma cell lines contain a nuclear factor, HNF-1, which binds functional sequences within the promoters of the alpha and beta chains of fibrinogen and alpha 1-antitrypsin. In UV cross-linking studies we find that HNF-1 has an apparent mol. wt of 92 kd in differentiated hepatocytes. Nuclear extracts from a dedifferentiated hepatoma cell line, Fao flC2 (C2), selected on the basis of morphological and biochemical dedifferentiation from Fao contains a protein, vHNF, which binds to the same DNA sequence motif as HNF-1 but has an apparent mol. wt of 72 rather than 92 kd. Mixing experiments indicate that this variant nuclear factor does not arise from HNF-1 by proteolysis. Reversion to the differentiated phenotype in C2-Rev7 (Rev7), selected by growth in glucose-free media, results in the re-expression of many liver-specific functions including the fibrinogen genes. In Rev7, HNF-1 is indistinguishable from that in the original differentiated cell line Fao. Transfection studies and nuclear run-on experiments indicate that reduced expression of fibrinogen RNA in C2 relative to Fao is related to reduced transcription. vHNF but not HNF-1 is present in somatic hybrids between fibroblasts and liver cells which show extinction of liver specific traits and it can also be detected in normal tissue, predominantly in lung nuclear extracts. Since vHNF and HNF-1 are not co-expressed yet correlate with the non-hepatic and hepatic phenotype, respectively, we suggest that the expression of these variant forms reflects determination events in establishing the hepatic phenotype.