BACKGROUND: NFATp is one member of a family of transcriptional activators whose nuclear accumulation and hence transcriptional activity is regulated in mammalian cells. Human NFATp exists as a phosphoprotein in the cytoplasm of naive T cells. Upon antigen stimulation, NFATp is dephosphorylated, accumulates in nuclei, and functions to regulate transcription of genes including those encoding cytokines. While the properties of the DNA binding domain of NFATp have been investigated in detail, biochemical studies of the transcriptional activation and regulated association with nuclei have remained unexplored because of a lack of full length, purified recombinant NFATp. RESULTS: We developed methods for expressing and purifying full length recombinant human NFATp that has all of the properties known to be associated with native NFATp. The recombinant NFATp binds DNA on its own and cooperatively with AP-1 proteins, activates transcription in vitro, is phosphorylated, can be dephosphorylated by calcineurin, and exhibits regulated association with nuclei in vitro. Importantly, activation by recombinant NFATp in a reconstituted transcription system required regions of the protein outside of the central DNA binding domain. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that NFATp is a bona fide transcriptional activator. Moreover, the reagents and methods that we developed will facilitate future studies on the mechanisms of transcriptional activation and nuclear accumulation by NFATp, a member of an important family of transcriptional regulatory proteins.