We have detected nuclear localization signals within the 795 amino acid rat glucocorticoid receptor. Using a transient expression assay, we monitored by immunofluorescence the subcellular distribution of receptor derivatives and beta-galactosidase-receptor fusion proteins. Two distinct nuclear localization signals, NL1 and NL2, were defined. NL1 maps to a 28 amino acid segment closely associated, but not coincident with the DNA binding domain; NL2 resides within a 256 amino acid region that also includes the hormone binding domain. Most importantly, nuclear localization of fusion proteins containing either the full-length receptor or the NL2 region alone is fully hormone-dependent; similar results were obtained with the wild-type receptor, provided the analysis was performed in medium lacking serum and phenol red. The rate of hormone-induced nuclear localization of an NL2-containing fusion protein is consistent with the rapid kinetics of hormone-regulated transcription mediated by the receptor. Thus, hormonal control of nuclear localization contributes to the modulation of glucocorticoid receptor transcriptional regulatory activity.