The human T-cell leukemia virus-encoded tax protein is a potent activator of many viral and cellular genes transcribed by RNA polymerase II. We find that both chromatin and cell extracts derived from human T-cell leukemia virus type 1-infected human T lymphocytes support higher levels of 5S rRNA and tRNA gene transcription than chromatin or extracts from uninfected T lymphocytes. The viral protein Tax was likely responsible for this higher level of class II gene transcription, as purified Tax was found to stimulate both genes when added to the uninfected cell extract or in reconstituted systems. Both limiting-component transcription assays and DNA binding assays identified the class III gene transcription factor TFIIIB as the principle target of Tax activity. Surprisingly, we find that Tax increases the effective concentration of active TFIIIB molecules. These data suggest that Tax stimulates RNA polymerase III-dependent gene expression by accelerating the rate and/or extent of transcription initiation complex assembly.