The hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) was first described as a DNA binding activity that specifically recognizes an 8 bp motif known to be essential for hypoxia-inducible erythropoietin gene transcription. Subsequently HIF-1 activity has also been found in cell lines which do not express erythropoietin, suggesting that HIF-1 is part of a widespread oxygen sensing mechanism. In electrophoretic mobility shift assays HIF-1 DNA binding activity is only detectable in nuclear extracts of cells cultivated in a low oxygen atmosphere. In addition to HIF-1, a constitutive DNA binding activity also specifically binds the HIF1 probe. Here we report that CRE and AP1 oligonucleotides efficiently competed for binding of the HIF1 probe to this constitutive factor, whereas HIF-1 activity itself remained unaffected. Monoclonal antibodies raised against the CRE binding factors ATF-1 and CREB-1 supershifted the constitutive factors ATF-1 and CREB-1 supershifted the constitutive factor, while Jun and Fos family members, which constitute the AP-1 factor, were immunologically undetectable. Recombinant ATF-1 and CREB-1 proteins bound HIF1 probes either as homodimers or as heterodimers, indicating a new binding specificity for ATF-1/CREB-1. Finally, reporter gene assays in HeLa cells treated with either a cAMP analogue or a phorbol ester suggest that the PKA, but not the PKC signalling pathway is involved in oxygen sensing.