Fumarate reductase catalyzes the terminal step of anaerobic electron transport with fumarate as a terminal electron acceptor. Transcription of the fumarate reductase (frdABCD) operon in Escherichia coli is repressed in the presence of the preferred terminal electron acceptors, oxygen and nitrate. To identify trans-acting genes involved in regulation by nitrate, a number of E. coli mutants were generated in which expression of a frdA'-'lacZ protein fusion was no longer fully repressed by nitrate. One of these mutants, strain LK23R35, exhibited 17-fold higher beta-galactosidase activity than the wild-type strain when grown anaerobically in the presence of nitrate. When grown aerobically in the presence of nitrate, it contained three- to fourfold more beta-galactosidase activity than the wild-type strain did. Oxygen regulation of frd expression, however, was unaffected by the mutation, since the level of beta-galactosidase activity in both strains was nearly identical when they were grown in the absence of nitrate either aerobically or anaerobically. To confirm that the mutation acts in trans to frdABCD, we measured fumarate reductase levels and found them to parallel FrdA'-beta-galactosidase activity under all growth conditions tested. The effect of the mutation is pleiotropic, since the levels of nitrate reductase in LK23R35 were not induced by the addition of nitrate. The frdR mutant was also derepressed for nitrate control of the trimethylamine-N-oxide reductase and alcohol dehydrogenase enzymes. The mutation maps in a region between trp and hemA at 27 min on the E. coli chromosome. This gene, where we call frdR, is involved in both positive and negative regulation of electron transport and fermentation associated genes. A cloned 4.9-kilobase fragment of chromosomal DNA was found to complement the frdR mutation; both repression of fumarate reductase gene expression and activation of nitrate reductase gene expression were restored.