Cytoplasmic dynein is a multisubunit ATPase that transforms chemical energy into motion along microtubules. LC8, a 10 kDa light chain subunit of the dynein complex, is highly conserved with 94% sequence identity between Drosophila and human. The precise function of this protein is unknown, but its ubiquitous expression and conservation suggest a critical role in the function of the dynein motor complex. We have overexpressed LC8 from Drosophila melanogaster and characterized its dimerization and folding using analytical ultracentrifugation, size-exclusion chromatography, circular dichroism, and fluorescence spectroscopy. Sedimentation equilibrium measurements of LC8 at pH 7 reveal a reversible monomer-dimer equilibrium with a dissociation constant of 12 microM at 4 degrees C. At lower pH, LC8 dissociates to a monomer, with a transition midpoint at pH 4.8. Far-UV CD and fluorescence spectra demonstrate that pH-dissociated LC8 retains native secondary and tertiary structures, while the diminished near-UV CD signal shows loss of quaternary structure. The observation that dimeric LC8 dissociates at low pH can be explained by titration of a histidine pair in the dimer interface. Equilibrium denaturation experiments with a protein concentration range spanning almost 2 orders of magnitude indicate that unfolding of LC8 dimer is a two-stage process, in which global unfolding is preceded by dissociation to a folded monomer. The nativelike tertiary structure of the monomer suggests a role for the monomer-dimer equilibrium of LC8 in dynein function.