Sporulation begins coincidentally with the expression of several stationary-phase-associated gene products during the transition state of a culture from exponential to stationary phase. Mutations in the stage 0 sporulation genes prevent the expression of these gene products in addition to blocking sporulation. Suppressor mutations in the abrB gene, in a spo0 background, restore stationary-phase-associated gene expression but not sporulation. The nature of the abrB gene product was investigated by isolating and sequencing the abrB gene. The abrB gene coded for a 96-amino-acid protein (molecular weight 10773) and contained a helix-turn-helix structure common to DNA binding proteins. Analysis of expression of the abrB gene using lacZ transcription fusions and direct measurement of mRNA content by hybridization showed that the spo0A gene repressed transcription of the abrB gene. Primer extension analysis of abrB gene mRNA revealed two initiation sites. The downstream site was dramatically repressed in spo0A+ strains, while the upstream site appeared not to be regulated by spo0A. Five abrB mutant alleles were cloned and sequenced. One mutation, abrB4, resided within the structural gene and continued to overexpress abrB messenger RNA from both promoters. A promoter mutation, abrB15, reduced transcription from the downstream promoter but not the upstream promoter. Thus, the phenotype of abrB mutations results from inactivation of the abrB gene product or by prevention of its overexpression. The results suggest that the abrB gene codes for a regulator which controls several genes whose products are normally produced during the transition phase between active growth and sporulation. The level of this regulator is, in turn, controlled by the spo0A gene. The pleiotropic phenotypes of spo0A mutants result from uncontrolled overexpression of the abrB regulator.