It has been hypothesized that certain viral infections directly activate a transcription factor(s) which is responsible for the activation of genes encoding type I interferons (IFNs) and interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) via interferon regulatory factor (IRF) motifs present in their respective promoters. These events trigger the activation of defense machinery against viruses. Here we demonstrate that IRF-3 transmits a virus-induced signal from the cytoplasm to the nucleus. In unstimulated cells, IRF-3 is present in its inactive form, restricted to the cytoplasm due to a continuous nuclear export mediated by nuclear export signal, and it exhibits few DNA-binding properties. Virus infection but not IFN treatment induces phosphorylation of IRF-3 on specific serine residues, thereby allowing it to complex with the co-activator CBP/p300 with simultaneous nuclear translocation and its specific DNA binding. We also show that a dominant-negative mutant of IRF-3 could inhibit virus-induced activation of chromosomal type I IFN genes and ISGs. These findings suggest that IRF-3 plays an important role in the virus-inducible primary activation of type I IFN and IFN-responsive genes.