The 289aa product of the adenovirus E1A gene mediates the transcriptional activation of the set of early viral genes as well as several cellular genes. The E1A protein is not a DNA binding protein but, rather, acts indirectly to achieve the activation. The process of viral gene activation involves the use of cellular transcription factors, and in at least one case, in vivo assays have demonstrated a stimulation of stable promoter complex formation as a function of the E1A gene product. Analysis of transcription factors in nuclear extracts has identified a cellular factor, termed E2F, with specificity for the viral E2 promoter. The concentration of this factor increases as a result of the action of E1A. This increase in DNA binding activity does not require protein synthesis, thus indicating an E1A-mediated modification of a pre-existing factor. The E2F factor has been purified to homogeneity and is a polypeptide of 54,000 molecular weight. Analysis of an additional viral promoter, the E4 promoter, has identified a protein that interacts with sequences critical for transcription. This factor, termed E4F, is also increased as a function of the E1A product. The E4F factor has also been purified to homogeneity and has a molecular weight of 50,000. Therefore, the coordinate control of transcription by the E1A gene product involves the activation of multiple promoter specific factors.