A temperature-sensitive mutation was obtained in Med6p, a component of the mediator complex from the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The mediator complex has been shown to enable transcriptional activation in vitro. This mutation in Med6p abolished activation of transcription from four of five inducible promoters tested in vivo. There was no effect, however, on uninduced transcription, transcription of constitutively expressed genes, or transcription by RNA polymerases I and III. Mediator-RNA polymerase II complex isolated from the mutant yeast strain was temperature sensitive for transcriptional activation in a reconstituted in vitro system due to a defect in initiation complex formation. A database search revealed the existence of MED6-related genes in humans and Caenorhabditis elegans, suggesting that the role of mediator in transcriptional activation is conserved throughout the evolution.