We have made 47 mutations that span the length of the human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) Tax open reading frame. Of the 47 mutations, 38 were substitutions of single amino acids, 5 were missense changes in two or more amino acids, and 4 were deletions. A subset of these mutations includes individual changes of all 26 naturally occurring serines to alanines. By assaying each mutant protein separately on the HTLV-I long terminal repeat (LTR) and the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) LTR in parallel, we were able to identify regions of Tax selectively necessary for each promoter. A small region in the carboxyl terminus, amino acids 315 to 325, was found to be selectively important for activation of the HTLV-I LTR. Three changes at serine 113, serine 160, and serine 258 were found to specifically affect function on the HIV-1 LTR. Surprisingly, we found that the great preponderance of missense changes (32 of 42) in Tax did not affect function.