The adenovirus protein E1a stimulates transcription of both viral and cellular genes. Unlike most other transcription factors, it induces transactivation through several different promoter elements. The mechanism by which elements of diverse sequence mediate the effect of E1a is the focus of this study. Three E1a-responsive elements (an ATF site, an Sp1 site, and a TATA box containing the sequence TATAA) were studied to determine whether their interaction with a common factor is necessary for transactivation. In transfection assays, each element was used as a competitor against promoter constructs containing the other elements. The elements as competitors had no effect on basal transcription, but each competitor completely inhibited transactivation by E1a. Competitors that were not E1a responsive failed to inhibit transactivation. Therefore, either E1a itself or an E1a-inducible factor interacts with each of the elements to cause transactivation, most likely though an association with each element's specific binding protein.