A three layered back-propagation neural network was trained to recognize E. coli promoters of the 17 base spacing class. To this end, the network was presented with 39 promoter sequences and derivatives of those sequences as positive inputs; 60% A + T random sequences and sequences containing 2 promoter-down point mutations were used as negative inputs. The entire promoter sequence of 58 bases, approximately −50 to +8, was entered as input. The network was asked to associate an output of 1.0 with promoter sequence Input and 0.0 with non-promoter input. Generally, after 100,000 input cycles, the network was virtually perfect in classifying the training set. A trained network was about 80% effective in recognizing 'new' promoters which were not In the training set, with a false positive rate below 0.1%. Network searches on pBR322 and on the lambda genome were also performed. Overall the results were somewhat better than the best rule-based procedures. The trained network can be analyzed both for its choice of base and relative weighting, positive and negative, at each position of the sequence. This method, which requires only appropriate input/output training pairs, can be used to define and search for any DNA regulatory sequence for which there are sufficient exemplars.