The GCN4 motif is conserved in a number of seed storage protein genes, and promoter fragments containing this motif have been shown to be involved in controlling seed-specific expression of the genes studied. All genes encoding the rice seed storage protein glutelin contain the GCN4 motif at similar sites in their 5' flanking regions. Using a stable homologous transgenic system, we have analysed the promoter of the rice glutelin gene GluB-1 and demonstrated that the GCN4 motif functions as an essential cis-element for endosperm-specific gene expression. Moreover, a 21 bp GluB-1 promoter fragment spanning the GCN4 motif, as a multimer, directed GUS gene expression in endosperm of transgenic rice plants, when fused directly to the core promoter (-46) of CaMV 35S. In transiently transfected rice protoplasts, over a hundred-fold transactivation was observed from the 21 bp sequence by the bZIP type transcriptional activator Opaque-2 (O2) co-expressed under a CaMV 35S promoter. The transactivation was also evident in transgenic plants containing both O2 and the 21 bp sequence/GUS fusion. The O2-mediated activation requires binding of O2 to an intact GCN4 motif. Our results suggest that a bZIP protein functionally similar to O2 may exist in rice and participate in controlling the endosperm-specific expression of GluB-1 through the GCN4 motif.