In male Drosophila melanogaster, the male specific lethal (MSL) complex is somehow responsible for a two-fold increase in transcription of most X-linked genes, which are enriched for histone H4 acetylated at lysine 16 (H4K16ac). This acetylation requires MOF, a histone acetyltransferase that is a component of the MSL complex. MOF also associates with the non-specific lethal or NSL complex. The MSL complex is bound within active genes on the male X chromosome with a 3' bias. In contrast, the NSL complex is enriched at promoter regions of many autosomal and X-linked genes in both sexes. In this study we have investigated the role of MOF as a transcriptional activator.MOF was fused to the DNA binding domain of Gal4 and targeted to the promoter region of UAS-reporter genes in Drosophila. We found that expression of a UAS-red fluorescent protein (DsRed) reporter gene was strongly induced by Gal4-MOF. However, DsRed RNA levels were about seven times higher in female than male larvae. Immunostaining of polytene chromosomes showed that Gal4-MOF co-localized with MSL1 to many sites on the X chromosome in male but not female nuclei. However, in female nuclei that express MSL2, Gal4-MOF co-localized with MSL1 to many sites on polytene chromosomes but DsRed expression was reduced. Mutation of conserved active site residues in MOF (Glu714 and Cys680) reduced HAT activity in vitro and UAS-DsRed activation in Drosophila. In the presence of Gal4-MOF, H4K16ac levels were enriched over UAS-lacZ and UAS-arm-lacZ reporter genes. The latter utilizes the constitutive promoter from the arm gene to drive lacZ expression. In contrast to the strong induction of UAS-DsRed expression, UAS-arm-lacZ expression increased by about 2-fold in both sexes.Targeting MOF to reporter genes led to transcription enhancement and acetylation of histone H4 at lysine 16. Histone acetyltransferase activity was required for the full transcriptional response. Incorporation of Gal4-MOF into the MSL complex in males led to a lower transcription enhancement of UAS-DsRed but not UAS-arm-lacZ genes. We discuss how association of Gal4-MOF with the MSL or NSL proteins could explain our results.