The class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules function in the presentation of processed peptides to helper T cells. As most mammalian cells can endocytose and process foreign antigen, the critical determinant of an antigen-presenting cell is its ability to express class II MHC molecules. Expression of these molecules is usually restricted to cells of the immune system and dysregulated expression is hypothesized to contribute to the pathogenesis of a severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome and certain autoimmune diseases. Human complementary DNA clones encoding a newly identified, cysteine-rich transcription factor, NF-X1, which binds to the conserved X-box motif of class II MHC genes, were obtained, and the primary amino acid sequence deduced. The major open reading frame encodes a polypeptide of 1,104 amino acids with a symmetrical organization. A central cysteine-rich portion encodes the DNA-binding domain, and is subdivided into seven repeated motifs. This motif is similar to but distinct from the LIM domain and the RING finger family, and is reminiscent of known metal-binding regions. The unique arrangement of cysteines indicates that the consensus sequence CX3CXL-XCGX1-5HXCX3CHXGXC represents a novel cysteine-rich motif. Two lines of evidence indicate that the polypeptide encodes a potent and biologically relevant repressor of HLA-DRA transcription: (a) overexpression of NF-X1 from a retroviral construct strongly decreases transcription from the HLA-DRA promoter; and (b) the NF-X1 transcript is markedly induced late after induction with interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), coinciding with postinduction attenuation of HLA-DRA transcription. The NF-X1 protein may therefore play an important role in regulating the duration of an inflammatory response by limiting the period in which class II MHC molecules are induced by IFN-gamma.