Signaling by some TNF receptor family members, including CD40, is mediated by TNF receptor-associated factors (TRAFs) that interact with receptor cytoplasmic domains following ligand-induced receptor oligomerization. Here we have defined the oligomeric structure of recombinant TRAF domains that directly interact with CD40 and quantitated the affinities of TRAF2 and TRAF3 for CD40. Biochemical and biophysical analyses demonstrated that TRAF domains of TRAF1, TRAF2, TRAF3, and TRAF6 formed homo-trimers in solution. N-terminal deletions of TRAF2 and TRAF3 defined minimal amino acid sequences necessary for trimer formation and indicated that the coiled coil TRAF-N region is required for trimerization. Consistent with the idea that TRAF trimerization is required for high-affinity interactions with CD40, monomeric TRAF-C domains bound to CD40 significantly weaker than trimeric TRAFs. In surface plasmon resonance studies, a hierarchy of affinity of trimeric TRAFs for trimeric CD40 was found to be TRAF2 > TRAF3 >> TRAF1 and TRAF6. CD40 trimerization was demonstrated to be sufficient for optimal NF-kappaB and p38 mitogen activated protein kinase activation through wild-type CD40. In contrast, a higher degree of CD40 multimerization was necessary for maximal signaling in a cell line expressing a mutated CD40 (T254A) that signaled only through TRAF6. The affinities of TRAF proteins for oligomerized receptors as well as different requirements for degree of receptor multimerization appear to contribute to the selectivity of TRAF recruitment to receptor cytoplasmic domains.