The human T-cell leukemia virus type I (HTLV-I) and HTLV-II Tax proteins are potent transactivators of viral and cellular gene expression. Using deletion mutants, the downstream parathyroid hormone- related protein (PTHrP) promoter is shown to be responsive to both HTLV- I and HTLV-II Tax as well as the AP1/c-jun proto-oncogene. Transactivation of PTHrP by Tax was seen in T cells but not in B-cell lines or fibroblasts. A carboxy terminal Tax deletion mutant was deficient in transactivation of both the PTHrP and IL2R alpha promoters but not the HTLV-I long terminal repeat (LTR). Exogenous provision of NFkB rescued IL2R alpha expression but not the PTHrP promoter. Thus, HTLV-I Tax, HTLV-II Tax, and c-jun transactivate PTHrP and may contribute to the pathogenesis of hypercalcemia in adult T-cell leukemia.