We analyzed the equine infectious anemia virus (EIAV) long terminal repeat (LTR) for sequences that influence its promoter activity and ability to be trans-activated by the EIAV tat gene product. A series of LTR deletion mutants and recombinants between LTR and simian virus 40 (SV40) regulatory sequences were used for these studies. We were able to identify the EIAV promoter region and showed that sequences within the U3 region significantly inhibited LTR-directed transcription. However, when placed in a heterologous context (SV40 promoter) these U3 sequences functioned as an enhancer. trans-activation of the EIAV LTR was found to depend upon sequences downstream of the transcription initiation site and also within U3. Deletion mutagenesis experiments showed that the major downstream element was present in a 46-nucleotide stretch (+4 to +50). An SV40 promoter construct containing these sequences could be trans-activated in cells expressing the EIAV tat gene product. For comparative purposes we also examined the LTR of another animal lentivirus, caprine arthritis-encephalitis virus (CAEV), for positive and negative transcriptional regulatory elements and demonstrated the presence of an enhancer within its U3 sequence. There is evidence that trans-activation of the CAEV LTR requires U3 sequences. When the EIAV U3 region was replaced by the CAEV U3 sequence, the promoter activity of the EIAV LTR was markedly elevated, but responsiveness to the EIAV trans-activator could not restored.