The breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1, is a nuclear phosphoprotein which functions as a tumor suppressor in human breast cancer cells. BRCA1 protein contains an amino-terminal zinc finger motif and a carboxy-terminal acidic region. Recently, the carboxy-terminal region of BRCA1 and the amino-terminal region of BRCA2 proteins were shown to function as transactivation domains when fused to GAL4 DNA binding domain. We have recently isolated and characterized two new naturally occurring variants of BRCA1 (BRCA1a/p110 and BRCA1b/p100) which are phosphoproteins containing phosphotyrosine that associate with E2F transcriptional factors, cyclins and cyclin dependent kinases indicating a role for BRCA1 proteins in cell-cycle regulation. Here we show for the first time that the amino-terminal region of BRCA1a (BNT) but not BRCA1b can also function as a transcriptional activator when fused to GAL4 DNA binding domain. Thus, BRCA1/1a proteins contain two autonomous transcriptional activation domains, one at the amino-terminal region (BNT) and the other at the carboxy-terminal region (BCT). BRCA1b retains only the BCT domain since it has lost part of the potential BNT domain as a result of alternative splicing. Our results also suggest the presence of an inhibitory domain at the carboxy terminal region of BRCA1 and BRCA1a proteins (BID). Thus, BRCA1b protein may function as a dominant negative variant that could regulate the transcriptional activity of BRCA1/BRCA1a proteins and hence may serve as a marker for identifying individuals with greater potential for developing breast cancer. It may be possible that loss of transcriptional activation or protein-protein interactions in patients with mutations in the amino terminal zinc finger domain could deprive the cell of an important mechanism for regulating cell proliferation leading to the development of breast cancer.