The promoter of the Rhizobium etli recA gene has been identified by primer extension and by making deletions affecting several regions located upstream of its coding region. A gel mobility shift assay carried out with crude extracts of cells of R. etli has been used to show that a DNA-protein complex is formed in the R. etli rec4 promoter region in vitro.Analysis of the minimal region of the rec4 promoter giving rise to this DNA-protein complex revealed the presence of an imperfect palindrome corresponding to the sequence TTGN11CAA. Site-directed mutation of both halves of this palindrome indicated that both motifs, TTG and CAA, are necessary for both normal DNA-protein complex formation in vitro and full DNA damage-mediated inducibility of the recA gene in vivo. However, the TTG motif seems to be more dispensable than the CAA one. The presence of this same palindrome upstream of the recA genes of Rhizobium meliloti and Agrobacterium tumefaciens, whose expression is also regulated in R. etli cells, suggests that this TTGN11CAA sequence may be the SOS box of at least these three members of the Rhizobiaceae.