Members of the winged helix/forkhead family of transcription factors are believed to play a role in cell-specific gene expression. A cDNA encoding a member of this family of proteins, termed hepatocyte nuclear factor/forkhead homologue 4 (HFH-4), has been isolated from rat lung and rat testis cDNA libraries. This cDNA contains an open reading frame of 421 amino acids with a conserved DNA binding domain and several potential transactivating regions. During murine lung development, a single species of HFH-4-specific transcript (2.4 kb long) is first detected precisely at the start of the late pseudoglandular stage (embryonic day 14.5) and, by in situ hybridization, is specifically localized to the proximal pulmonary epithelium. The unique temporal and spatial pattern of HFH-4 gene expression in the developing lung defines this protein as a marker for the initiation of bronchial epithelial cell differentiation and suggests that it may play an important role in cell fate determination during lung development. In addition to expression in the pulmonary epithelium, RNA blot analysis reveals 2.4-kb HFH-4 transcripts in the testis and oviduct. By using mice with genetic defects in spermatogenesis, HFH-4 expression in the testis is found to be associated with the appearance of haploid germ cells and in situ hybridization studies indicate that HFH-4 expression is confined to stages I-VII of spermatogenesis. This pattern of HFH-4 gene expression during the early stages of differentiation of haploid germ cells suggests that HFH-4 may play a role in regulating stage-specific gene expression and cell-fate determination during lung development and in spermatogenesis.