Physiological and therapeutic activities of glucocorticoids and other steroid hormones are mediated by the family of steroid hormone receptors. In addition to the classical mode of receptor action which involves binding as a dimer to regulatory sequences in target gene promoters and subsequent activation of transcription, a second mode of action is based predominantly on protein-protein interactions. As the paradigm of this so-called transcriptional cross-talk, the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and the AP-1 transcription factor interact on target gene promoters which contain only a binding site for either one of the two transcription factors. Most frequently negative interference of both factors with each other's activity has been observed, for example, when AP-1 is composed of c-Fos and c-Jun; however, synergism is also possible under cell-specific conditions and when AP-1 is a homodimer of c-Jun. Since the detection of the GR/AP-1 cross-talk numerous other examples of transcription factor interactions have been described. Many members of the nuclear hormone receptor superfamily, including class II receptors, have been shown to participate in such cross-talk. Moreover, the transcription factor families of NF-kappaB/Rel as well as Stat, Oct, and C/EBP are engaged in cross-talk with steroid receptors. Despite the identification of a multitude of target genes which appear to be regulated by this type of transcription factor interaction, the exact molecular mechanism of the cross-talk has not yet been elucidated. This review discusses the current models to explain the molecular events of transcription factor cross-talk. Concepts are emphasized which suggest that the classical and the cross-talk mode of steroid receptor action can be triggered separately by the choice of specific ligands. A final section summarizes the partially contradictory data which assign a certain type of receptor action to a biological response particularly in the immune system.