Mechanisms and signals that regulate transcriptional coactivators are still largely unknown. Here we provide genetic evidence for a repressor that interacts with and regulates the nuclear receptor coactivator PGC-1. Association with the repressor requires a PGC-1 protein interface that is similar to the one used by nuclear receptors. Removal of the repressor enhances PGC-1 coactivation of steroid hormone responses. We also provide evidence that interaction of the repressor with PGC-1 is regulated by mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling. Activation of the MAPK p38 enhances the activity of wild-type PGC-1 but not of a PGC-1 variant that no longer interacts with the repressor. Finally, p38 activation enhances steroid hormone response in a PGC-1-dependent manner. Our data suggest a model where the repressor and nuclear receptors compete for recruiting PGC-1 to an inactive and active state, respectively. Extracellular signals such as nuclear receptor ligands or activators of the MAPK p38 can shift the equilibrium between the two states.