The virus-induced activation of interferon alpha/beta (IFN-alpha/beta) gene transcription is essential for host defense. The IFN-beta promoter is controlled primarily by the virus-inducible enhancer elements, the IRF-Es. Here we show that IRF-3, an IRF family transcription factor, translocates to the nucleus from the cytoplasm upon virus infection in NIH/3T3 cells. The nuclear IRF-3 is phosphorylated, interacts with the co-activators CBP/p300, and binds specifically to the IFN-beta IRF-E. Furthermore, overexpression of IRF-3 causes a marked increase in virus-induced IFN-beta mRNA expression. Thus, IRF-3 is a candidate transcription factor mediating the activation of the IFN-beta gene.