The Bel1 transactivator is essential for the replication of human foamy virus (HFV). To define the functional domains of HFV Bel1, we generated random missense mutations throughout the entire coding sequence of Bel1. Functional analyses of 24 missense mutations have revealed the presence of at least two functional domains in Bel1. One domain corresponds to a basic amino acid-rich motif which acts as a bipartite nuclear targeting sequence. A second, central domain corresponds to a presumed effector region which, when mutated, leads to dominant-negative mutants and/or lacks transactivating ability. In addition, deletion analyses and domain-swapping experiments further showed that Bel1 protein contains a strong carboxy-terminal activation domain. The activating region is also capable of functioning as a transcription-activating domain in yeast cells, although it does not bear any significant sequence homology to the well-characterized acidic activation domain which is known to function only in yeast and mammalian cells. We also demonstrated that the regions of Bel1 from residues 1 to 76 and from residues 153 to 225 repressed transcriptional activation exerted by the Bel1 activation domain. In contrast, the region from residues 82 to 150 appears to overcome an inhibitory effect. These results indicate that Bel1 contains one positive and two negative regulatory domains that modulate a distinct activation domain of Bel1. These regulatory domains of Bel1 cannot affect the function of the VP16 activation domain, suggesting that these domains specifically regulate the activation domain of Bel1. Furthermore, in vivo competition experiments showed that the positive regulatory domain acts in trans. Thus, our results demonstrate that Bel1-mediated transactivation appears to undergo a complex regulatory pathway which provides a novel mode of regulation for a transcriptional activation domain.