Interactions of E. coli lac repressor (LacR) with a pair of operator sites on the same DNA molecule can lead to the formation of looped nucleoprotein complexes both in vitro and in vivo. As a major paradigm for loop-mediated gene regulation, parameters such as operator affinity and spacing, repressor concentration, and DNA bending induced by specific or non-specific DNA-binding proteins (e.g., HU), have been examined extensively. However, a complete and rigorous model that integrates all of these aspects in a systematic and quantitative treatment of experimental data has not been available. Applying our recent statistical-mechanical theory for DNA looping, we calculated repression as a function of operator spacing (58-156 bp) from first principles and obtained excellent agreement with independent sets of in-vivo data. The results suggest that a linear extended, as opposed to a closed v-shaped, LacR conformation is the dominant form of the tetramer in vivo. Moreover, loop-mediated repression in wild-type E. coli strains is facilitated by decreased DNA rigidity and high levels of flexibility in the LacR tetramer. In contrast, repression data for strains lacking HU gave a near-normal value of the DNA persistence length. These findings underscore the importance of both protein conformation and elasticity in the formation of small DNA loops widely observed in vivo, and demonstrate the utility of quantitatively analyzing gene regulation based on the mechanics of nucleoprotein complexes.