The Leu3 protein of Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been shown to be a transcriptional regulator of genes encoding enzymes of the branched-chain amino acid biosynthetic pathways. Leu3 binds to upstream activating sequences (UASLEU) found in the promoters of LEU1, LEU2, LEU4, ILV2, and ILV5. In vivo and in vitro studies have shown that activation by Leu3 requires the presence of alpha-isopropylmalate. In at least one case (LEU2), Leu3 actually represses basal-level transcription when alpha-isopropylmalate is absent. Following identification of a UASLEU-homologous sequence in the promoter of GDH1, the gene encoding NADP(+)-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase, we demonstrate that Leu3 specifically interacts with this UASLEU element. We then show that Leu3 is required for full activation of the GDH1 gene. First, the expression of a GDH1-lacZ fusion gene is three- to sixfold lower in a strain lacking the LEU3 gene than in an isogenic LEU3+ strain. Expression is restored to near-normal levels when the leu3 deletion cells are transformed with a LEU3-bearing plasmid. Second, a significant decrease in GDH1-lacZ expression is also seen when the UASLEU of the GDH1-lacZ construct is made nonfunctional by mutation. Third, the steady-state level of GDH1 mRNA decreases about threefold in leu3 null cells. The decrease in GDH1 expression in leu3 null cells is reflected in a diminished specific activity of NADP(+)-dependent glutamate dehydrogenase. We also demonstrate that the level of GDH1-lacZ expression correlates with the cells' ability to generate alpha-isopropylmalate and is lowest in cells unable to produce alpha-isopropylmalate. We conclude that GDH1, which plays an important role in the assimilation of ammonia in yeast cells, is, in part, activated by a Leu3-alpha-isopropylmalate complex. This conclusion suggests that Leu3 participates in transcriptional regulation beyond the branched-chain amino acid biosynthetic pathways.