A DNA-binding factor with high affinity and specificity for the [Leu5]enkephalin-encoding sequences in the prodynorphin and proenkephalin genes has been characterized. The factor has the highest affinity for the [Leu5]-enkephalin-encoding sequence in the dynorphin B-encoding region of the prodynorphin gene, has relatively high affinity for other [Leu5]enkephalin-encoding sequences in the prodynorphin and proenkephalin genes, but has no apparent affinity for similar DNA sequences coding for [Met5]-enkephalin in the prodynorphin or proopiomelanocortin genes. The factor has been named [Leu5]enkephalin-encoding sequence DNA-binding factor (LEF). LEF has a nuclear localization and is composed of three subunits of about 60, 70, and 95 kDa, respectively. The highest levels were observed in rat testis, cerebellum, and spleen and were generally higher in late embryonal compared to newborn or adult animals. LEF activity was also recorded in human clonal tumor cell lines. LEF inhibited the transcription of reporter genes in artificial gene constructs where a [Leu5]enkephalin-encoding DNA fragment had been inserted between the transcription initiation site and the coding region of the reporter genes. These observations suggest that the [Leu5]enkephalin-encoding sequences in the prodynorphin and proenkephalin genes also have regulatory functions realized through interaction with a specific DNA-binding factor.