We demonstrated that the GCC box, which is an 11-bp sequence (TAAGAGCCGCC) conserved in the 5' upstream region of ethylene-inducible pathogenesis-related protein genes in Nicotiana spp and in some other plants, is the sequence that is essential for ethylene responsiveness when incorporated into a heterologous promoter. Competitive gel retardation assays showed DNA binding activities to be specific to the GCC box sequence in tobacco nuclear extracts. Four different cDNAs encoding DNA binding proteins specific for the GCC box sequence were isolated, and their products were designated ethylene-responsive element binding proteins (EREBPs). The deduced amino acid sequences of EREBPs exhibited no homology with those of known DNA binding proteins or transcription factors; neither did the deduced proteins contain a basic leucine zipper or zinc finger motif. The DNA binding domain was identified within a region of 59 amino acid residues that was common to all four deduced EREBPs. Regions highly homologous to the DNA binding domain of EREBPs were found in proteins deduced from the cDNAs of various plants, suggesting that this domain is evolutionarily conserved in plants. RNA gel blot analysis revealed that accumulation of mRNAs for EREBPs was induced by ethylene, but individual EREBPs exhibited different patterns of expression.