The presentation of peptides to T cells by MHC class II molecules is of critical importance in specific recognition to a pathogen by the immune system. The level of MHC class II directly influences T lymphocyte activation. The aim of this study was to identify the possible mechanisms of the down-regulation of MHC class II expression by Zta during EBV lytic cycle. The data in the present study demonstrated that ectopic expression of Zta can strongly inhibit the constitutive expression of MHC class II and CIITA in Raji cells. The negative effect of Zta on the CIITA promoter activity was also observed. Scrutiny of the DNA sequence of CIITA promoter III revealed the presence of two Zta-response element (ZRE) motifs that have complete homology to ZREs in the DR and left-hand side duplicated sequence promoters of EBV. By chromatin immunoprecipitation assays, the binding of Zta to the ZRE(221) in the CIITA promoter was verified. Site-directed mutagenesis of three conserved nucleotides of the ZRE(221) substantially disrupted Zta-mediated inhibition of the CIITA promoter activity. Oligonucleotide pull-down assay showed that mutation of the ZRE(221) dramatically abolished Zta binding. Analysis of the Zta mutant lacking DNA binding domain revealed that the DNA-binding activity of Zta is required for the trans repression of CIITA. The expression of HLA-DRalpha and CIITA was restored by Zta gene silencing. The data indicate that Zta may act as an inhibitor of the MHC class II pathway, suppressing CIITA transcription and thus interfering with the expression of MHC class II molecules.