Studies of NF-kappa B suggest that this enhancer binding activity corresponds to a family of at least four proteins (p50, p55, p75, and p85) differentially induced with biphasic kinetics during T cell activation. While p55 and p50 are closely related to the 50 kd DNA binding subunit of NF-kappa B, p75 and p85 exhibit DNA binding properties that distinguish them from this 50 kd polypeptide and its regulatory subunits I kappa B and p65. All four members of this kappa B-specific protein family are structurally related to the v-Rel oncoprotein and one, p85, appears identical to human c-Rel. v-Rel, but not nontransforming v-Rel mutants, binds to the kappa B enhancer and inhibits NF-kappa B-activated transcription from the IL-2 receptor alpha promoter and HIV-1 LTR. These findings suggest a Rel-related family of kappa B enhancer binding proteins and raise the possibility that the transforming activity of v-Rel is linked to its inhibitory action on cellular genes under NF-kappa B control.