Sequence-specific DNA binding has been demonstrated for a synthetic peptide comprising only one of the two "finger"-like domains of the erythroid transcription factor GATA-1 (also termed Eryf-1, NF-E1, or GF-1). Quantitative analysis of gel-retardation assays yields a specific association constant of 1.2 x 10(8) M, compared with values of about 10(9) M for the full-length natural GATA-1 protein. By the use of peptides of various lengths, it was possible to delineate the smallest region necessary for specific binding. A single C-terminal finger of the double-finger motif is necessary but not sufficient for sequence-specific interaction. Basic amino acids located C-terminal to the finger (some more than 20 amino acids away) are also essential for tight binding. In addition to demonstrating that zinc is important for the formation of an active binding complex, we show that other ions, notably Fe2+, can fulfill this role. Our results make it clear that the GATA-1 metal binding motif is quite distinct from that found in the steroid hormone family and that GATA-1 is a member of a separate class of DNA binding proteins.