The dihydrofolate reductase (dhfr) promoter is powerfully activated by the transcription factor Sp1. It has been suggested that Sp1 is a potential target for transcriptional regulation by the cell cycle regulator retinoblastoma protein (Rb), and so we have explored this possibility using the hamster dhfr gene as a model. By the use of DNA probes from the hamster dhfr gene promoter, containing the most proximal GC box (minimal promoter), and nuclear extracts from cultured hamster cells (CHO K1), we show that polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against Rb supershift the binding of Sp1. Nuclear extract immunoprecipitation with anti-Rb followed by Western analysis using anti-Sp1 also shows that Rb is complexed to Sp1. Complementary Immunoprecipitation/WB analysis shows both forms of Rb protein in the anti-Sp1 immunoprecipitates. Moreover, nuclear extract immunodepletion of Rb abolishes Sp1 gel-shift. The interaction between Rb and Sp1 is maintained in all the phases of the cell cycle. Transient overexpression of Rb in dhfr negative cells co-transfected with a dhfr minigene driven by its minimal promoter increases DHFR activity and potentiates transcription when overexpressing Sp1. Both effects are severely reduced when the co-transfections are performed with a homologous dhfr minigene containing a single point mutation in the GC box. Thus, the activation by Rb of the dhfr gene may be exerted through Sp1. Stable transfectants of pCMVRb in K1 cells show an increase in both mRNA and DHFR activity. It is concluded that Sp1 is physically associated with Rb, and that this association increases Sp1-mediated transcription of the hamster dhfr gene.