The human cytochrome c 1 promoter is strongly activated in transfected Drosophila SL2 cells expressing exogenous human E2F1. Transfection-deletion experiments, DNase I protection by E2F1 and gel mobility-shift experiments locate E2F1 activation sites to two regions on either side of the transcription start site. Deletion of either region prevents E2F1 activation in transfected SL2 cells, suggesting a co-operative interaction between them. E2F6, a member of the E2F family that lacks transactivation domains but contains specific suppressor domains, inhibits cytochrome c 1 promoter activity when co-transfected into HeLa cells, indicating that the E2F proteins modulate the cytochrome c 1 promoter in mammalian cells. However, E2F is not a general regulator of oxidative phosphorylation genes since three additional nuclear-encoded mitochondrial genes were unaffected by E2F1 or E2F6.