The E6 protein of human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16), along with E7, is responsible for the HPV-induced malignant transformation of the cervix. However, the mechanism of this transformation activity is not well understood. We investigated whether the entire E6 protein of HPV-16 could act as an activator of transcription. Experiments in which NIH 3T3 cells were cotransfected with an E6 expression vector together with the reporter chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene linked to various minimal promoters indicated that E6 could activate transcription from a series of viral TATA-containing promoters. Mutations or deletions that affected all upstream regulatory elements present in the thymidine kinase (TK) promoter, such as the GC and CAAT boxes, reduced the level of E6-induced transcription. However, compared with the basal level, these truncated promoters were still activated by E6. Although site-directed mutations of the TATA sequence present in the TK or human immunodeficiency virus long terminal repeat promoters reduced the level of basal transcription, they did not abolish the E6-mediated activation. Moreover, E6 could restore almost completely the full level of wild-type E6-induced transcription as long as the upstream regulatory elements (GC/CAAT in the TK promoter, NF-kappa B in the human immunodeficiency virus long terminal repeat) were intact. This dual interaction of HPV-16 E6 is reminiscent of the activity of a coactivator.