The Tat regulatory protein encoded by human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) induces high levels of transcription from the viral long terminal repeat (LTR) promoter element after interacting with a promoter proximal RNA target sequence. In the wild-type HIV-1 LTR, this activation is facilitated by the synergistic interaction of Tat with the NF-kappa B and, particularly, SP1 regulatory proteins that bind to DNA sequences within the LTR promoter element. Using a synthetic Tat responsive indicator construct, we here demonstrate that NF-kappa B and SP1 are not uniquely or even unusually competent to synergize with HIV-1 Tat. Instead, these proteins can be functionally replaced by several, but not all, of the heterologous cellular and viral transcriptional activators tested. Tat therefore shares the ability to functionally synergize with a range of transcriptional activators, which is characteristic of DNA-sequence-specific regulatory proteins.