As previously shown, type III intermediate filaments (IFs) select from a mixture of linear mouse genomic DNA fragments mobile and repetitive, recombinogenic sequences that have also been identified in SDS-stable crosslinkage products of vimentin and DNA isolated from intact fibroblasts. Because these sequences also included homopurine.homopyrimidine (Pu.Py) tracts known to adopt triple-helical conformation under superhelical tension, and because IF proteins are single-stranded (ss) and supercoiled DNA-binding proteins, it was of interest whether they have a particular affinity for triplex DNA. To substantiate this, IF-selected DNA fragments harboring a (Pu.Py) segment and synthetic d(GA)(n) microsatellites were inserted into a vector plasmid and the constructs analyzed for their capacity to interact with IF proteins. Band shift assays revealed a substantially higher affinity of the IF proteins for the insert-containing plasmids than for the empty vector, with an activity decreasing in the order of vimentin > glial fibrillary acidic protein > desmin. In addition, footprint analyses performed with S1 nuclease, KMnO(4), and OsO(4)/bipyridine showed that the (Pu.Py) inserts had adopted triplex conformation under the superhelical strain of the plasmids, and that the IF proteins protected the triple-helical insert sequences from nucleolytic cleavage and chemical modification. All these activities were largely reduced in extent when analyzed on linearized plasmid DNAs. Because intramolecular triplexes (H-DNA) expose single-stranded loops, and the prokaryotic ssDNA-binding proteins g5p and g32p also protected at least the Pu-strand of the (Pu.Py) inserts from nucleolytic degradation, it seemed likely that the IF proteins take advantage of their ssDNA-binding activity in interacting with H-DNA. However, in contrast to g5p and E. coli SSB, they produced no clear band shifts with single-stranded d(GA)(20) and d(TC)(20), so that the interactions rather appear to occur via the duplex-triplex and triplex-loop junctions of H-DNA. On the other hand, the IF proteins, and also g32p, promoted the formation of intermolecular triplexes from the duplex d[A(GA)(20).(TC)(20)T] and d(GA)(20) and d(TC)(20) single strands, with preference of the Py (Pu.Py) triplex motif, substantiating an affinity of the proteins for the triplex structure as such. This triplex-stabilizing effect of IF proteins also applies to the H-DNA of (Pu.Py) insert-containing plasmids, as demonstrated by the preservation of intramolecular triplex-vimentin complexes upon linearization of their constituent supercoiled DNAs, in contrast to poor complex formation from free, linearized plasmid DNA and vimentin. Considering that (Pu.Py) sequences are found near MAR/replication origins, in upstream enhancer and promoter regions of genes, and in recombination hot spots, these results might point to roles of IF proteins in DNA replication, transcription, recombination, and repair.