Regulation of expression of protein-encoding genes in eukaryotes is frequently mediated by sequence-specific transcription factors that control the activities of the basal factors and RNA polymerase II. Basal factors have been considered to be essential for all polymerase II promoters. Studies of the basal factor requirements for transcription from the immunoglobulin heavy chain gene (IgH) core promoter and the adenovirus major late gene core promoter (MLP) suggest that this paradigm is too simple. Basal transcription from the IgH promoter was reconstituted by TFIID, TFIIB, TFIIF, and polymerase, whereas basal transcription from the MLP is highly dependent upon TFIIE in addition to the above factors. Two novel protein activities, referred to as 700 kd and 90 kd, further stimulated the basal reaction from the MLP. Thus, these data indicate that not all basal factors are in fact general.