The structures of three proteins that regulate gene expression have been determined recently and suggest how these proteins may bind to their specific recognition sites on the DNA. One protein (Cro) is a repressor of gene expression, the second (CAP) usually stimulates gene expression, and the third (lambda repressor) can act as either a repressor or an activator. The three proteins contain a substructure consisting of two consecutive alpha helices that is virtually identical in each case. Structural and amino acid sequence comparisons suggest that this bihelical fold occurs in a number of proteins that regulate gene expression, and is an intrinsic part of the DNA-protein recognition event. The modes of repression and activation by Cro and lambda repressor are understood reasonably well, but the mode of action of CAP is still unclear.