The adenovirus E1A proteins differentially regulate AP-1-responsive genes. Collagenase and stromelysin are repressed by E1A, whereas the expression of c-jun is elevated. Inhibition of collagenase has been found to be exerted through the consensus AP-1 binding site TGAGTCA. Here we show that the distal AP-1 binding site in the c-jun promoter, the jun2TRE (TTACCTCA), is the decisive element of this promoter in mediating the positive response to the 243 amino acid E1A product. In vitro binding studies revealed that, in contrast to the consensus AP-1 site which is preferentially targeted by dimers composed of the Jun and Fos families, the jun2TRE binds heterodimers composed of cJun and ATF-2(-like) proteins. Since stimulation of c-jun transcription is a function of the transforming domain of E1A encoded by conserved region 1, cJun--ATF-2 may be one of the effector factors involved in transformation. The data further suggest that E1A can distinguish between cJun--cJun and cJun--ATF-2 in imposing opposite states of activity.