Using spectroscopic methods, we have studied the structural changes induced in both protein and DNA upon binding of the High-Mobility Group I (HMG-I) protein to a 21-bp sequence derived from mouse satellite DNA. We show that these structural changes depend on the stoichiometry of the protein/DNA complexes formed, as determined by Job plots derived from experiments using pyrene-labeled duplexes. Circular dichroism and melting temperature experiments extended in the far ultraviolet range show that while native HMG-I is mainly random coiled in solution, it adopts a beta-turn conformation upon forming a 1:1 complex in which the protein first binds to one of two dA.dT stretches present in the duplex. HMG-I structure in the 1:1 complex is dependent on the sequence of its DNA target. A 3:1 HMG-I/DNA complex can also form and is characterized by a small increase in the DNA natural bend and/or compaction coupled to a change in the protein conformation, as determined from fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) experiments. In addition, a peptide corresponding to an extended DNA-binding domain of HMG-I induces an ordered condensation of DNA duplexes. Based on the constraints derived from pyrene excimer measurements, we present a model of these nucleated structures. Our results illustrate an extreme case of protein structure induced by DNA conformation that may bear on the evolutionary conservation of the DNA-binding motifs of HMG-I. We discuss the functional relevance of the structural flexibility of HMG-I associated with the nature of its DNA targets and the implications of the binding stoichiometry for several aspects of chromatin structure and gene regulation.