Isothermal titration calorimetry has been used to investigate the thermodynamic parameters of the binding of thymidine (dT) and ATP to herpes simplex virus type 1 thymidine kinase (HSV1 TK). Binding follows a sequential pathway in which dT binds first and ATP second. The free enzyme does not bind ATP, whose binding site becomes only accessible in the HSV1 TK.dT complex. At pH 7.5 and 25 degrees C, the binding constants are 1.9 x 10(5) m(-1) for dT and 3.9 x 10(6) m(-1) for ATP binding to the binary HSV1 TK.dT complex. Binding of both substrates is enthalpy-driven and opposed by a large negative entropy change. The heat capacity change (DeltaCp) obtained from DeltaH in the range of 10-25 degrees C is -360 cal K(-1) mol(-1) for dT binding and -140 cal K(-1) mol(-1) for ATP binding. These large DeltaCp values are incompatible with a rigid body binding model in which the dT and ATP binding sites pre-exist in the free enzyme. Values of DeltaCp and TDeltaS strongly indicate large scale conformational adaptation of the active site in sequential substrate binding. The conformational changes seem to be more pronounced in dT binding than in the subsequent ATP binding. Considering the crystal structure of the ternary HSV1 TK.dT.ATP complex, a large movement in the dT binding domain and a smaller but substantial movement in the LID domain are proposed to take place when the enzyme changes from the substrate-free, presumably more open and less ordered conformation to the closed and compact conformation of the ternary enzyme-substrate complex.