Transcriptional repression of eukaryotic genes is essential for many cellular and developmental processes, yet the precise mechanisms of repression remain poorly understood. The Dorsal Switch Protein (DSP1) was identified in a genetic screen for activities which convert Dorsal into a transcriptional repressor. DSP1 shares structural homology with the HMG-1/2 family and inhibits activation by the rel transcription factors Dorsal and NF-kappaB in transfection studies. Here we investigate the mechanism of transcriptional repression by DSP1. We found that DSP1 protein can act as a potent transcriptional repressor for multiple activator families in vitro and in transfection studies. DSP1 bound directly to the TATA binding protein (TBP), and formed a stable ternary complex with TBP bound to DNA. DSP1 preferentially disrupted the DNA binding of TBP complexes containing TFIIA and displaced TFIIA from binding to TBP. Consistent with the inhibition of TFIIA-bound complexes, DSP1 was shown to inhibit activated but not basal transcription reactions in vitro. The ability of DSP1 to interact with TBP and to repress transcription was mapped to the carboxy-terminal domain which contains two HMG boxes. Our results support the model that DSP1 represses activated transcription by interfering with the binding of TFIIA, a general transcription factor implicated in activated transcription pathways.