The POU domain gene family of transcription factors share a conserved bipartite DNA binding domain, and exhibit distinct temporal and spatial patterns of expression during development, particularly in the forebrain. A cDNA encoding a new member of the POU-III class of the POU domain gene family, referred to as Brn-4, was isolated from a rat hypothalamic cDNA library. Like other mammalian POU-III genes previously characterized (Brn-1, Brn-2, Tst-1), Brn-4 transcripts are initially widely expressed at all levels of the developing neural tube, but in contrast to other previously described POU-III genes, are subsequently restricted to only a few regions of the adult forebrain, including the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei of the hypothalamus. Brn-4 was shown to bind to DNA sequences containing the octamer motif and to trans-activate promoters containing this DNA binding motif, based on the actions of a unique N-terminal information. This ontogenic pattern of Brn-4 expression in concert with that of Oct-2 and Pit-1, indicates that certain POU domain genes potentially exert their primary functions widely during early neural development, and in a very limited set of neurons in the mature brain.