Steroid hormone receptors activate specific gene transcription by binding as hormone-receptor complexes to DNA enhancer elements termed hormone responsive elements. A highly conserved 66-amino-acid region of the oestrogen and glucocorticoid receptors which corresponds to part of the receptor DNA-binding domain (region C) determines the specificity of target gene recognition. This region contains two subregions (CI and CII), encoded in two separate exons, that are analogous to the 'zinc fingers' of the transcription factor TFIIIA. The N-terminal CI finger determines the recognition specificity of the hormone responsive element. A chimaeric oestrogen receptor, in which the CI finger is replaced with the corresponding glucocorticoid receptor CI finger region, activates transcription from a reporter gene containing a glucocorticoid-responsive element, but not from a reporter gene containing an oestrogen-responsive element. We report here that three amino acids located at the C-terminal side of the oestrogen receptor CI finger play a key part in this specificity.