Human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) Rex and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Rev are essential gene products required for the replication of these two pathogenic human retroviruses. Both Rex and Rev act at a posttranscriptional level by binding to highly structured RNA-response elements, the Rex-response element in HTLV-I and the Rev-response element in HIV-1. Using a sensitive in vivo assay of protein-protein interaction, we now demonstrate that the HTLV-I Rex and HIV-1 Rev proteins readily form homomultimeric complexes in the absence of their cognate RNA-response elements yet fail to form heteromultimeric complexes with each other. Dominant negative mutations have been identified in both the rex and rev genes which presumably specify a critical activation or effector domain in each of these viral transactivators. Surprisingly, these dominant negative mutants of Rex and Rev fail to interact in vivo. These findings raise the possibility that the binding of nonfunctional monomers rather than functional multimers underlies the transdominant phenotype of these Rex and Rev mutants. Further, it seems likely that the assembly of functional and stable multimers of Rex and Rev in vivo may depend not only on the intrinsic multimerization domains of these proteins but also on the binding of a bridging cellular cofactor to the related activation domains present in each viral transactivator.