The maize VP1 protein is a seed-specific regulator of gene expression that effects the expression of a subset of abscisic acid (ABA)-regulated genes that are expressed during the maturation program of the seed. In addition, VP1 has pleiotropic effects on seed development that are not related to ABA. In transient expression assays, VP1 has been shown to transactivate gene expression through at least two distinct promoter elements: the G boxes from the ABA-inducible wheat Em gene and the SphI box from the maize C1 gene. We have investigated how VP1 can transactivate gene expression through diverse promoter elements by analyzing its association in vitro with EmBP-1, a factor that binds the Em promoter. We demonstrate that VP1 can greatly enhance the DNA binding activity of EmBP-1 in a gel retardation assay. This enhancing activity has also been observed on transcription factors as diverse as Opaque-2, Max, Sp1, and NF-κB. Deletion of a small but highly conserved region (BR2) in VP1 eliminates the enhancement in vitro as well as the ability of VP1 to transactivate Em gene expression in a transient expression assay. A 40-amino acid fragment from VP1 sandwiched between the maltose- binding protein and LacZ can confer the enhancement function to this fusion protein in vitro. A weak and relatively nonspecific interaction between BR2 and DNA is demonstrated by UV cross-linking. The in vitro properties we observe for VP1 might explain the regulatory effects of VP1 on a diverse set of genes and why mutations in the vp1 locus have pleiotropic effects.