Transcription driven by the HTLV-I promoter is strongly activated by the viral transactivator protein Tax1. This effect is mediated via a 21 bp sequence which is imperfectly repeated three times in the viral promoter. We showed previously that a single 21 bp copy exhibits a strong Tax1-inducible enhancer activity and is able to bind different cellular proteins, namely ATF, HEB1 and HEB2. We have further investigated the molecular mechanism involved in the Tax1 induction of the 21 bp motif's enhancer activity by analysing Tax1 interaction with this DNA sequence. For this purpose a HeLa cell line constitutively expressing a functional Tax1 protein was established and nuclear extracts of these cells were used to perform a DNA affinity precipitation assay. This experimental approach allowed us to show that Tax1 specifically binds to the 21 bp motif. The same sequence elements of the 21 bp motif are required both for Tax1 binding and for Tax1-induced enhancer activity. Chromatographic fractionation of the HeLa tax nuclear extract showed that the binding is indirect and is mediated by the cellular factor HEB 1.