Transcription of the major histocompatibility complex class II family of genes is regulated by conserved promoter elements and two gene-specific trans-activators, RFX and CIITA. RFX binds DNA and nucleates the assembly of an enhanceosome, which recruits CIITA through protein–protein interactions. Transcriptional activation is a complex, multi-step process involving chromatin modification and recruitment of the transcription apparatus. To examine the roles of the enhanceosome and CIITA in these processes, we analysed the level of promoter-associated hyperacetylated histones H3 and H4, TBP, TFIIB and RNA poly merase II in cells lacking RFX or CIITA. We compared four genes co-regulated by RFX and CIITA (HLA-DRA, HLA-DPB, HLA-DMB and Ii) and found that the enhanceosome and CIITA make variable, promoter-dependent contributions to histone acetylation and transcription apparatus recruitment. CIITA is generally implicated at multiple levels of the activation process, while the enhanceosome contributes in a CIITA-independent manner only at certain promoters. Our results support the general notion that the impact of a particular activator on transcription in vivo may vary depending on the promoter and the chromatin context.