Hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1) is now recognized as a possible target for cancer treatment. This transcription factor is responsible for the overexpression of several genes favouring cancer cell survival and inducing neo-angiogenesis. Echinomycin has recently been described to inhibit HIF-1 DNA binding and transcriptional activity. In this work, it is shown that echinomycin strongly inhibits the activity of HIF-1 under hypoxic conditions, and also interferes with the activity of other transcription factors. These results demonstrate the lack of specificity of this molecule. Moreover, it is demonstrated that echinomycin induces an increase in HIF-1 activity under normoxic conditions, parallel to an increase in the expression of HIF-1 target genes. This effect is caused by an increase in HIF-1α protein level, resulting from an increase in the transcription of the HIF-1A gene in the presence of a low concentration of echinomycin. Transfection experiments with HIF-1α promoter constructs revealed the presence of an Sp1 binding element responsive to echinomycin. Furthermore, echinomycin enhanced Sp1 activity, as measured by the use of a specific reporter system. These findings show, for the first time, that echinomycin has a dual effect on HIF-1 activity under normoxic and hypoxic conditions, demonstrating that this molecule cannot be used in cancer treatment. © 2007 The Authors.