Some genital human papillomavirus (HPV) types, such as 16 and 18, are highly associated with malignant cervical tumors while others, such as HPV 6, are only rarely found in these malignancies. The E7 oncoproteins of HPV 6, 16 and 18 each have a 17 amino acid region with striking homology to adenovirus E1a and SV40 LT. E1a, LT and the E7 oncoprotein of HPV16 all bind the cellular Rb protein in vitro, and for E1a and LT this region of homology contains sequences essential for interaction with Rb. We have now found that in HPV 16 E7 this region (amino acids 21-37) contains two separate biochemical activities, each of which contributes to E7-mediated transformation. Rb binding was localized to the N terminus of this region, while the C terminus was shown to serve as a substrate for casein kinase (CK) II, which phosphorylated serine-31 and serine-32. Replacement of the two serines by non-phosphorylatable amino acids led to a reduction in transforming activity and abolished phosphorylation but did not affect Rb binding. Rb binding and CK II phosphorylation were also examined for the E7 proteins of HPV 6 and HPV 18. HPV 16 and 18 E7 bound similar amounts of Rb, but HPV 6 E7 consistently bound less. Phosphorylation rates also varied, with HPV 18 E7 being 2-fold faster than HPV 16 E7, which in turn was 2-fold faster than HPV 6 E7. We conclude that Rb binding and phosphorylation of E7 by CKII are independent activities which are required for efficient transformation by E7 and that these activities correlate directly with the relative oncogenic potential of these viruses.