The human papillomavirus (HPV) Long Control Region (LCR) encompasses the early promoter (EP) that drives transcription of the E6 and E7 oncogenes in keratinocytes and HPV-associated cancers. In this study, the transcriptional activities of the HPV33 EP from the prototype LCR and from eight variants representative of the worldwide diversity of the virus were examined in primary human keratinocytes (PHK) and in the HeLa cervical carcinoma cell line by luciferase reporter-gene assays. Remarkably, the two variations with the greatest effect on the EP in PHK were C7732G and a 79-bp deletion that were associated with high-grade cervical lesions and persistent infections, respectively, in epidemiological studies. In contrast, the three variations most active in HeLa cells were C7537A, A7874C and A7879G. A7874C, which lies within an E2-binding sequence, is also shown to increase the activity and binding of E2 at this site. Collectively, these results indicate that naturally-occurring variations affect the HPV33 EP differentially in PHK than in cancer cells and, furthermore, that they can also alter its regulation by E2. These findings provide a molecular basis for rationalizing the results of previous epidemiological studies and for understanding the contribution of LCR polymorphisms to the oncogenicity and persistence of HPV33 infections.