TGF-beta1 (transforming growth factor-beta1) is the prototypical member of a large family of pleiotropic cytokines that regulate diverse biological processes during development and adult tissue homoeostasis. TGF-beta signals via membrane bound serine/threonine kinase receptors which transmit their signals via the intracellular signalling molecules Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4. These Smads contain conserved MH1 and MH2 domains separated by a flexible linker domain. Smad2 and Smad3 act as kinase substrates for the receptors, and, following phosphorylation, they form complexes with Smad4 and translocate to the nucleus. These Smad complexes regulate gene expression and ultimately determine the biological response to TGF-beta. In this issue of the Biochemical Journal, Wang et al. have shown that, like Smad4, the linker domain of Smad3 contains a Smad transcriptional activation domain. This is capable of recruiting the p300 transcriptional co-activator and is required for Smad3-dependent transcriptional activation. This study raises interesting questions about the nature and regulation of Smad-regulated gene activation and elevates the status of the linker domain to rival that of the much-lauded MH1 and MH2 domains.