A general initiation factor, TFIIE, is essential for transcription initiation by RNA polymerase II in conjunction with other general factors. TFIIE is a heterotetramer containing two subunits of relative molecular mass 57,000 (TFIIE-alpha) and two of 34,000 (TFIIE-beta). TFIIE-beta is required in conjunction with TFIIE-alpha for transcription initiation. Here we report the cloning and expression of a complementary DNA encoding a functional human TFIIE-beta. Recombinant TFIIE-beta could replace the natural TFIIE-beta for transcription in conjunction with TFIIE-alpha. Amino-acid sequence comparisons reveal regions with sequence similarities to: subregion 3 of bacterial sigma factors; a region of RAP30 (the small subunit of TFIIF) with sequence similarity to a sigma-factor subregion implicated in binding to RNA polymerase; and a portion of the basic region-helix-loop-helix motif found in several enhancer-binding proteins. These potential homologies have implications for the role of TFIIE in preinitiation complex assembly and function.