By using transposon insertional mutagenesis and deletion analyses, a recombinant clone containing the region upstream of the acoABCD operon of Klebsiella pneumoniae was found to be required for acetoin-inducible expression of the operon in Escherichia coli. The nucleotide sequence of file region was determined, and it displayed an open reading frame of 2,763 bp that is transcribed divergently to the acoABCD operon. This gene, designated acoK, is capable of encoding a protein with an overall 58.4% amino acid identity with MalT, the transcriptional activator of the E. coli maltose regulon. A conserved sequence for nucleotide binding at the N-terminal region, as well as a helix-turn-helix motif belonging to the LuxR family of transcriptional regulators at the C terminus, was also identified. Primer extension analysis identified two transcription initiation sites, S1 and S2, located 319 and 267 bp, respectively, upstream of the putative start codon of acoK. Several copies of NtrC recognition sequence [CAC-(N11 to N18)-GTG] were found in the promoter regions of both the acoK gene and the acoABCD operon. Acetoin-dependent expression of the acoABCD operon could be restored in the E. coli acoK mutants by supplying a plasmid carrying an intact acoK, suggesting a transactivating function of the gene product. The AcoK protein overproduced in E. coli was approximately 100 kDa, which is in good agreement with the molecular mass deduced from the nucleotide sequence. A specific DNA binding property and an ATPase activity of the purified AcoK were also demonstrated.