We have investigated the role of the TATA-binding protein (TBP) in modulating RNA polymerase (Pol) III gene activity. Epitope-tagged TBP (e-TBP) was both transiently and stably transfected in Drosophila Schneider S-2 cells to increase the total cellular level of TBP. Analysis of the transcripts synthesized from cotransfected tRNA and U6 RNA genes revealed that both types of RNA Pol III promoters were substantially stimulated by an increase in e-TBP in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, a TBP-dependent increase in the levels of endogenous tRNA transcripts was produced in the stable line induced to express the e-TBP. We further determined whether the ability of increased TBP to induce RNA Pol III gene expression was due to a direct effect of increased TBP complexes on RNA Pol III gene promoters or an indirect consequence of enhanced expression of RNA Pol II genes. A TBP expression plasmid (e-TBP332), containing a mutation within the highly conserved carboxy-terminal domain, was both transiently and stably transfected into S-2 cells. e-TBP332 augmented the transcription from two RNA Pol II gene promoters indistinguishably from that observed when e-TBP was expressed. In contrast, e-TBP332 was completely defective in its ability to stimulate either the tRNA or U6 RNA gene promoters. In addition, increasing levels of a truncated TBP protein containing only the carboxy-terminal region failed to induce either the tRNA or U6 RNA gene promoter, whereas it retained its ability to stimulate an RNA Pol II promoter. Thus, the TBP-dependent increase in RNA Pol II gene activity is not sufficient for enhanced RNA Pol III gene transcription; rather, a direct effect on RNA Pol III promoters is required. Furthermore, these results provide the first direct evidence that the amino-terminal region of TBP is important for the formation or function of TBP-containing complexes utilized by TATA-less and TATA-containing RNA Pol III promoters. Together, these studies demonstrate that TBP is limiting for the expression of both classes of RNA Pol III promoters in Drosophila cells and implicate an important role for TBP in regulating RNA Pol III gene expression.