Through alternative transcript splicing, the human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) US3 immediate-early (IE) locus encodes multiple products including potential membrane-bound glycoproteins. To characterize the US3 products and determine which encode regulatory activity, individual cDNAs were cloned and expressed. Three transcript species were confirmed through the isolation of cDNAs; an unspliced transcript, a transcript spliced once from exon 3 to exon 5 and a transcript spliced both at exon 1 to exon 3 and at exon 3 to exon 5. The predicted signal sequences and N-linked glycosylation sites in the US3 products were confirmed using expression in reticulocyte lysates containing microsomal membranes. Regulatory activity of the individual US3 products was demonstrated using transient transfection assays. The unspliced cDNA and the cDNA containing the exon 3 to exon 5 splice, encoded products which increased expression of the human heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) promoter, while the product of the doubly-spliced US3 cDNA did not. Transactivation was synergistically increased by coexpression with the HCMV UL37 protein. We conclude that the first 132 amino acids common to the unspliced and the singly-spliced US3 gene products are sufficient for hsp70 transactivation; while the amino-terminal 28 amino acids, encoded by the doubly-spliced US3 cDNA, are not. These results demonstrate that a US3 IE protein lacking the putative transmembrane domain has regulatory activity.