The p89/xeroderma pigmentosum complementation group B (XPB) ATPase-helicase of transcription factor IIH (TFIIH) is essential for promoter melting prior to transcription initiation by RNA polymerase II (RNAPII). By studying the topological organization of the initiation complex using site-specific protein-DNA photo-cross-linking, we have shown that p89/XPB makes promoter contacts both upstream and downstream of the initiation site. The upstream contact, which is in the region where promoter melting occurs (positions -9 to +2), requires tight DNA wrapping around RNAPII. The addition of hydrolyzable ATP tethers the template strand at positions -5 and +1 to RNAPII subunits. A mutation in p89/XPB found in a xeroderma pigmentosum patient impairs the ability of TFIIH to associate correctly with the complex and thereby melt promoter DNA. A model for open complex formation is proposed.