The human host cell factor (HCF) is expressed in a variety of adult and fetal tissues, and its gene is conserved in animals as diverse as mammals and insects. However, its only known function is to stabilize the herpes simplex virus virion transactivator VP16 in a complex with the cellular POU domain protein Oct-1 and cis-acting regulatory elements in promoters of immediate-early viral genes. To identify a cellular function for HCF, we used the yeast two-hybrid system to identify a cellular ligand for HCF. This protein, Luman, appears to be a cyclic AMP response element (CRE)-binding protein/activating transcription factor 1 protein of the basic leucine zipper superfamily. It binds CREs in vitro and activates CRE-containing promoters when transfected into COS7 cells. This activation of transcription was synergistically enhanced by the presence of CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein elements and inhibited by AP-1 elements in the promoter. In addition to a basic DNA binding domain, Luman possesses an unusually long leucine zipper and an acidic amino-terminal activation domain. These features in Luman are also present in what appear to be homologs in the mouse, Drosophila melanogaster, and Caenorhabditis elegans. Luman and VP16 appear to have similar mechanisms for binding HCF, as in vitro each competitively inhibited the binding of the other to HCF. In transfected cells, however, while VP16 strongly inhibited the ability of GAL-Luman to activate transcription from a GAL4 upstream activation sequence-containing promoter, Luman was unable to inhibit the activity of GAL-VP16. Luman appears to be a ubiquitous transcription factor, and its mRNA was detected in all human adult and fetal tissues examined. The possible role of HCF in regulating the function of this ubiquitous transcription factor is discussed.