Transcriptional activation of gene expression in HIV-1 is controlled by the interaction of sequence-specific transcription factors with the long terminal repeat (LTR) of the provirus. The identification and characterization of cellular proteins involved in the process has provided a basic understanding about both general eukaryotic and HIV-1 proviral transcription regulation. The HIV-1 epidemic is expanding worldwide with an increasing number of distinct viral subtypes as well as intersubtype recombinant viruses. LTR-specific sequence variability among different HIV-1 variants could affect LTR binding to cellular and/or viral factors, influencing the extent of transcription. In vitro assays have demonstrated subtype-specific functional differences between the LTR regions of distinct HIV-1 subtypes. This observation could have consequences on the biology of the different HIV-1 clades and influence HIV-1 disease progression. Finally, the knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of transcription regulation events could help in the search for new compounds targeting the critical steps of viral transcription.