Human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 appear to play a role in the development of ano-genital malignancies, whereas HPV 6 and 11 are usually associated with benign lesions. One HPV16 oncoprotein, E6, complexes with and promotes degradation of the cellular tumor suppressor p53. Here we show that E6 proteins of both oncogenic and benign HPV types associate in vitro with p53, but binding by E6 proteins of benign HPV types cannot target p53 for degradation. A C-terminal region of E6 conserved among all HPV types is important for p53 binding. However, N-terminal sequences of E6 conserved only between oncogenic HPV types are necessary to direct p53 degradation. p53 binding by E6 appears necessary but not sufficient for this activity. All E6 proteins tested showed comparable transcriptional trans-activating activity, a property that does not require the ability to bind or direct degradation of p53.