GCN4 is a transcriptional activator in the bZIP family that regulates amino acid biosynthetic genes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Previous work suggested that the principal activation domain of GCN4 is a highly acidic segment of approximately 40 amino acids located in the center of the protein. We conducted a mutational analysis of GCN4 with a single-copy allele expressed under the control of the native promoter and translational control elements. Our results indicate that GCN4 contains two activation domains of similar potency that can function independently to promote high-level transcription of the target genes HIS3 and HIS4. One of these domains is coincident with the acidic activation domain defined previously; the other extends over the N-terminal one-third of the protein. Both domains are partially dependent on the coactivator protein ADA2. Each domain appears to be composed of two or more small subdomains that have additive effects on transcription and that can cooperate in different combinations to promote high-level expression of HIS3 and HIS4. At least three of these subdomains are critically dependent on bulky hydrophobic amino acids for their function. Five of the important hydrophobic residues, Phe-97, Phe-98, Met-107, Tyr-110, and Leu-113, fall within a region of proposed sequence homology between GCN4 and the herpesvirus acidic activator VP16. The remaining three residues, Trp-120, Leu-123, and Phe-124, are highly conserved between GCN4 and its Neurospora counterpart, cpc-1. Because of the functional redundancy in the activation domain, mutations at positions 97 and 98 must be combined with mutations at positions 120 to 124 to observe a substantial reduction in activation by full-length GCN4, and substitution of all eight hydrophobic residues was required to inactivate full-length GCN4. These hydrophobic residues may mediate important interactions between GCN4 and one or more of its target proteins in the transcription initiation complex.