This study demonstrates that the NF-kappaB subunit p65 can act like an accessory protein for the serum response factor (SRF) in transfection assays. p65 functionally synergizes with SRF to activate the transcription of a reporter construct dependent only on the serum response element (SRE). The synergy of the two factors requires neither a kappaB motif nor direct contact of p65 with DNA. Consistent with these results, a physical complex containing p65 and SRF is observed in vitro. Synergy of the factors is independent of the previously described activation domains present on p65, ruling out indirect effects of p65, but synergy is dependent on the activation domain of SRF. The complexing of p65 and SRF is mediated by a segment of the SRF DNA binding domain, a region of the protein which has also been reported to inhibit its own activation domain. We speculate that p65, upon direct or facilitated interaction with SRF, may relieve the inhibitory activity of this segment, thus enabling the activation domain of SRF to become fully functional. In contrast to p65, the p50 subunit of NF-kappaB does not interact significantly with SRF, either functionally or physically. The data suggest the intriguing possibility that NF-kappaB may participate in the regulation of SRE-dependent promoters, expanding the range of activities of this rapidly activatable transcription factor.