The interaction of steroids with their nuclear receptors induces a cascade of regulatory events that results from the activation of specific sets of genes by the hormone/receptor complex. Steroids, either acting alone or possibly synergistically with other growth factors, can influence the DNA synthesis and proliferation of specific target cells, initiate developmental pathways and activate expression of the differentiated phenotype. Moreover, steroid hormones have been implicated in abnormal growth regulation both in tumours and tumour-derived cell lines. The identification of complementary DNAs encoding the human glucocorticoid receptor (hGR) predicts two protein forms (alpha and beta; 777 and 742 amino acids long, respectively) which differ at their carboxy termini. We report here that both forms of the receptor are related, with respect to their domain structure, to the v-erb-A oncogene product of avian erythroblastosis virus (AEV), which suggests that steroid receptor genes and the c-erb-A proto-oncogene are derived from a common primordial regulatory gene. Therefore, oncogenicity by AEV may result, in part, from the inappropriate activity of a truncated steroid receptor or a related regulatory molecule encoded by v-erb-A. This suggests a mechanism by which transacting factors may facilitate transformation. We also identify a short region of hGR that is homologous with the Drosophila homoeotic proteins encoded by Antennapedia and fushi tarazu.