We have designed three zinc-finger proteins with different DNA binding specificities. The design strategy combines a consensus zinc-finger framework sequence with previously characterized recognition regions such that the specificity of each protein is predictable. The first protein consists of three identical zinc fingers, each of which was expected to recognize the subsite GCG. This protein binds specifically to the sequence 5'-GCG-GCG-GCG-3' with a dissociation constant of approximately 11 microM. The second protein has three zinc fingers with different predicted preferred subsites. This protein binds to the predicted recognition site 5'-GGG-GCG-GCT-3' with a dissociation constant of 2 nM. Furthermore, selection experiments indicate that this is the optimal binding site. A permuted version of the second protein was also constructed and shown to preferentially recognize the corresponding permuted site 5'-GGG-GCT-GCG-3' over the non-permuted site. These results indicate that earlier observations on the specificity of zinc fingers can be extended to generalized zinc-finger structures and realize the use of zinc fingers for the design of site-specific DNA binding proteins. This consensus-based design system provides a useful model system with which to study details of zinc-finger-DNA specificity.