The CREB and CREM transcription factors are activated by phosphorylation of a key serine residue by kinases stimulated by cyclic AMP, Ca2+, growth factors and stress signals. Phosphorylation allows recruitment of CREB-binding protein (CBP), a large co-activator that contacts the general transcriptional machinery. Studies of the physiological roles played by CREB and CREM have uncovered novel routes of transcriptional activation. For example, in male germ cells CREM is not phosphorylated but associates with ACT, a member of the LIM-only class of proteins that has intrinsic transcriptional activity. Thus, in some circumstances, CREM can bypass the classical requirement for phosphorylation and association with CBP.