The human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) transactivator (Tax) has been shown to interfere with regulated cellular proliferation. Many studies have focused on the ability of Tax to transform rodent fibroblasts; however, none has defined the molecular requirements for Tax transformation of human lymphoid cells. We show here that tax induces permanent growth of human primary T-lymphocytes by using a transformation/immortalization defective rhadinovirus vector. The cells phenotypically resemble HTLV-immortalized lymphocytes and contain episomally persisting recombinant rhadinoviral sequences, which stably express functional Tax protein. As Tax can activate major cellular signal transducing pathways including NF-kappaB and cAMP-responsive element binding protein (CREB), we asked for the relevance of these routes in the immortalization of human lymphocytes. By using Tax mutants that either activate exclusively CREB/activating transcription factor or are defective in activating this signaling pathway, we delineated that Tax can induce immortalization of primary human T-lymphocytes through a mechanism independent of NF-kappaB activation.