Dysregulation of cytokine secretion plays an important role in AIDS pathogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that expression of HIV-1 Tat protein in Jurkat cells induces a severe impairment of IL-2 but not TNF gene transcription. Interestingly, this inhibition correlates with the effect of the viral protein on the transactivation of the CD28RE/AP1 composite element (−164/−154), but not with that observed on the NFAT/AP1 site of the IL-2 gene promoter, neither with the effect on NF-κB- nor AP1-independent binding sites. Endogenous expression of Tat induced a decrease in the amount of the specific protein complex bound to the CD28RE/AP1 probe after PMA plus calcium ionophore stimulation. This effect was accompanied by qualitative alterations of the AP1 complex. Thus, in wild-type Jurkat cells, c-jun was absent from the complex, whereas in Tat-expressing cells, c-jun was increasingly recruited overtime. By contrast, similar amounts of c-rel and a small amount of NFAT1 were detected both in wild type and in Jurkat Tat+ cells. Furthermore, Tat not only induced the participation of c-jun in the cooperative complex but also a decrease in its transactivation activity alone or in combination with c-rel. Thus, the interaction of Tat with the components of this rel/AP1 cooperative complex seems to induce quantitative and qualitative alterations of this complex as activation progresses, resulting in a decrease of IL-2 gene transcription. Altogether our results suggest the existence of tuned mechanisms that allow the viral protein to specifically affect cooperative interactions between transcription factors.