In Bacillus subtilis, expression of the tryptophan biosynthetic genes is regulated in response to tryptophan by an RNA-binding protein called TRAP (trp RNA-binding attenuation protein). TRAP has been shown to contain 11 identical subunits arranged in a symmetrical ring. Kinetic and thermodynamic parameters of the interaction between tryptophan-activated TRAP and trp leader RNA were studied. Results from glycerol gradients and mobility shift gels indicate that two TRAP 11-mers bind to each trp leader RNA. A filter binding assay was used to determine an apparent binding constant of 8.0 +/- 1.3 x 10(9) m-1 (Kd = 0.12 +/- 0.02 nM) for TRAP and an RNA containing residues +36 to +92 of the trp leader RNA in 1 mM L-tryptophan at 37 degrees C. The temperature dependence of Kapp was somewhat unexpected demonstrating that the delta H of the interaction is highly unfavorable at + 15.9 kcal mol-1. Therefore, the interaction is completely driven by a delta S of +97 cal mol-1 K-1. The interaction between tryptophan-activated TRAP and trp leader RNA displayed broad salt and pH activity profiles. Finally, the rate of RNA dissociation from the RNA-TRAP.tryptophan ternary complex was found to be very slow in high concentrations of tryptophan (> 40 microM) but increased in lower tryptophan concentrations. This suggests that dissociation of tryptophan from the ternary complex is the rate-limiting step in RNA dissociation.