We have developed a computerized search pattern for recognition of the three-dimensional redox site of thioredoxins based on primary and predicted secondary structure. This pattern, developed in the ariadne protein expert system, is used to search for thioredoxin-like tertiary structural motif among proteins for which the only structural information is the primary sequence. The pattern was trained on 102 protein sequences (25 functionals and 77 controls); it matches all 25 members of the functional set under cutoff conditions that include only 2 members of the control set, for a sensitivity of 1.0 and a specificity of 0.97. The pattern matches only one of the two thioredoxin-like domains in protein disulfide isomerases (PDIs) and their analogues, suggesting that the C-terminal domain is more structurally similar to thioredoxin than the N-terminal domain. The Escherichia coli DsbA protein, a possible PDI analogue, appears to be more structurally similar to the N-terminal thioredoxin-like domain of PDIs. Thioredoxin-like redox functionality has been proposed for lutropin and follitropin, in part on the basis of their having-Cys-X-Pro-Cys-sequences. None match our pattern; all lack a predicted a-helix pattern element immediately after the active site. Hypothetical proteins in the National Biomedical Research Foundation Protein Identification Resource database were searched for matches to the pattern. The most interesting match was a hypothetical protein (161 residues) from the third open reading frame in the Staphylococcus aureus mer operon, which is involved in mercury detoxification. The match to our pattern and the hydrophobicity distribution in aligned elements of secondary structure not in our pattern strongly suggest that it has thioredoxin-like structure.