The amino-terminal region of the adenovirus type 5 E1a protein including conserved regions (CRs) 1 and 2 binds the 105-kDa retinoblastoma protein and a second, 300-kDa, cellular protein. We show that mutant viruses with deletions of CR1 which release the binding of either p105 or p300 still activate early promoters and infect cells productively. However, mutations which disrupt binding of both proteins disrupt early promoter activity and block the viral life cycle. Ela CR3, which has an established role in early promoter activation, can act in trans to the amino-terminal functions. This suggests that the amino terminus provides distinct, redundant functions related to p300 and Rb binding that synergize with CR3 to transactivate early genes.