Xenopus laevis cytoskeletal actin gene promoters contain a 20-bp sequence homologous to the serum response element (SRE) required for transient human c-fos gene transcription in response to serum factors. Both sequences bind the same factor in HeLa cell extracts, as shown by binding competition, DNase I and dimethylsulphate (DMS) protection and DMS interference assays. A similar protein is present in Xenopus laevis oocytes. Sequences containing the SRE homology are essential for constitutive activity of the actin promoter in both Xenopus and mouse cells, and a synthetic SRE functions as a promoter element in these cells. In mouse cells, transcription of both transfected Xenopus actin and actin/c-fos fusion genes is activated following serum stimulation. These data suggest that the SRE and its cognate protein form part of a regulatory pathway that has been highly conserved during evolution.