The adenovirus E1A gene product, the simian virus 40 large tumor antigen, and the human papillomavirus E7 protein share a short amino acid sequence that constitutes a domain required for the transforming activity of these proteins. These sequences are also required for these proteins to bind to the retinoblastoma gene product (pRb). Recent experiments have shown that E1A can dissociate complexes containing the transcription factor E2F bound to pRb, dependent on this conserved sequence element. We now show that the E7 protein and the simian virus 40 large tumor antigen can dissociate the E2F-pRb complex, dependent on this conserved sequence element. We also find that the E2F-pRb complex is absent in various human cervical carcinoma cell lines that either express the E7 protein or harbor an RB1 mutation, suggesting that the loss of the E2F-pRb interaction may be an important aspect in human cervical carcinogenesis. We suggest that the ability of E1A, the simian virus 40 large tumor antigen, and E7 to dissociate the E2F-pRb complex may be a common activity of these viral proteins that has evolved to stimulate quiescent cells into a proliferating state so that viral replication can proceed efficiently. In circumstances in which a lytic infection does not proceed, the consequence of this action may be to initiate the oncogenic process in a manner analogous to the mutation of the RB1 gene.