The factor TFIID is one of several general factors that are necessary and sufficient for transcription initiation by mammalian RNA polymerase II. Stable interactions with the common TATA element lead both to template commitment and to the assembly of the other general factors into a functional preinitiation complex. Consistent with its key role in the promoter activation pathway, human TFIID also seems to be a target for some regulatory factors, as evidenced both by physical and functional studies of interactions between these components. The evolutionary conservation of functional properties led to the purification and cloning of yeast TFIID, the identification of presumptive structural motifs, and direct structure-function studies. Here we report the cloning of a complementary DNA encoding a functional human TFIID. This reveals an evolutionarily conserved core which corresponds precisely to the 180-residue DNA binding/activation domain determined for yeast TFIID, a near absolute conservation of component structural motifs (direct repeats, central basic core/lysine repeat, and sigma homology), providing further support for their functional importance, and a unique N-terminal structure that suggests involvement in species-specific regulatory factor interactions.