The consensus DNA site for binding of the Escherichia coli catabolite gene activator protein (CAP) is 22 base pairs in length and is 2-fold symmetric: 5'-AAATGTGATCTAGATCACATTT-3'. Positions 4 to 8 of each half of the consensus DNA half-site are the most strongly conserved. In this report, we analyze the effects of substitution of DNA base pairs at positions 4 to 8, the effects of substitution of thymine by uracil and by 5-methylcytosine at positions 4, 6, and 8, and the effect of dam methylation of the 5'-GATC-3' sequence at positions 7 to 10. All DNA sites having substitutions of DNA base pairs at positions 4 to 8 exhibit lower affinities for CAP than does the consensus DNA site, consistent with the proposal that the consensus DNA site is the ideal DNA site for CAP. Specificity for T:A at position 4 appears to be determined solely by the thymine 5-methyl group. Specificity for T:A at position 6 and specificity for A:T at position 8 appear to be determined in part, but not solely, by the thymine 5-methyl group. dam methylation has little effect on CAP.DNA complex formation. The thermodynamically defined consensus DNA site spans 28 base pairs. All, or nearly all, DNA determinants required for maximal affinity for CAP and for maximal thermodynamically defined CAP.DNA ion pair formation are contained within a 28-base pair DNA fragment that has the 22-base pair consensus DNA site at its center. The quantitative data in this report provide base-line thermodynamic data required for detailed investigations of amino acid-base pair and amino acid-phosphate contacts in this protein-DNA complex.