RORbeta is a member of the nuclear hormone receptor superfamily whose ligand is unknown. Expression of RORbeta is confined to the central nervous system and its pattern suggests that this orphan nuclear receptor is implicated in the processing of sensory information and in circadian timing. In rats, RORbeta mRNA levels oscillate robustly in pineal gland and retina, displaying a 24h rhythm. Here we report the cloning of the cDNA of a novel isoform of RORbeta from rat pineal tissue. Expression of this isoform, called RORbeta2, is confined to pineal gland and retina and strongly increases at night. RORbeta2 shares common DNA- and putative ligand-binding domains with the canonical RORbeta (referred to as RORbeta1), but is characterized by a different amino-terminal domain. This structural difference renders RORbeta2 much more selectively binding to DNA than RORbeta1. Moreover, in contrast to RORbeta1, the novel isoform efficiently activates transcription also in non-neuronal cell lines. Thus, the two RORbeta isoforms are likely to regulate different sets of genes in different physiological contexts. 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.