Jembrana disease virus (JDV) is a newly identified bovine lentivirus that is closely related to the bovine immunodeficiency virus (BIV). JDV contains a tat gene, encoded by two exons, which has potent transactivation activity. Cotransfection of the JDV tat expression plasmid with the JDV promoter chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) construct pJDV-U3R resulted in a substantial increase in the level of CAT mRNA transcribed from the JDV long terminal repeat (LTR) and a dramatic increase in the CAT protein level. Deletion analysis of the LTR sequences showed that sequences spanning nucleotides -68 to +53, including the TATA box and the predicted first stem- loop structure of the predicted Tat response element (TAR), were required for efficient transactivation. The results, derived from site-directed mutagenesis experiments, suggested that the base pairing in the stem of the first stem-loop structure in the TAR region was important for JDV Tat- mediated transactivation; in contrast, nucleotide substitutions in the loop region of JDV TAR had less effect. For the JDV LTR, upstream sequences, from nucleotide -196 and beyond, as well as the predicted secondary structures in the R region, may have a negative effect on basal JDV promoter activity. Deletion of these regions resulted in a four- to fivefold increase in basal expression. The JDV Tat is also a potent transactivator of other animal and primate lentivirus promoters. It transactivated BIV and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) LTRs to levels similar to those with their homologous Tat proteins. In contrast, HIV-1 Tat has minimal effects on JDV LTR expression, whereas BIV Tat moderately transactivated the JDV LTR. Our study suggests that JDV may use a mechanism of transactivation similar but not identical to those of other animal and primate lentiviruses.