In a wide variety of nitrogen-fixing organisms among the Purple Bacteria (large division of Gram-negative bacteria) the nitrogen fixation (nif) operons are transcribed by an alternative holoenzyme form of RNA polymerase, sigma 54-holoenzyme. Transcription depends on the activator protein NIFA (nitrogen fixation protein A), which catalyzes isomerization of closed complexes between this polymerase and a promoter to transcriptionally productive open complexes. NIFA-mediated activation of transcription from the nifH promoter of Klebsiella pneumoniae is greatly stimulated by the integration host factor IHF, which binds to a site between the upstream binding site for NIFA and the promoter, and bends the DNA. IHF fails to stimulate activation of transcription from this promoter by another activator of sigma 54-holoenzyme, NTRC (nitrogen regulatory protein C), which lacks a specific binding site in the nifH promoter region. As predicted, if the IHF-induced bend facilitates interaction between NIFA and sigma 54-holoenzyme, substitution of an NTRC-binding site for the NIFA-binding site allowed IHF to stimulate NTRC-mediated activation of transcription from the nifH promoter. The stimulation was of the same order of magnitude as that for NIFA in the native configuration of the promoter-regulatory region (up to 20-fold). With purified NTRC and the substitution construct we could demonstrate that stimulation by IHF in a purified transcription system was comparable to that in a crude coupled transcription-translation system, indicating that the stimulation in the crude system could be accounted for by IHF. The IHF stimulation was observed on linear as well as supercoiled templates, indicating that the geometric requirements are relatively simple. We have attempted to visualize the arrangement of proteins on DNA fragments carrying the nifH promoter-regulatory region of K. pneumoniae by electron microscopy. IHF stimulated NIFA-mediated activation of transcription from the nifH and nifD promoters of Bradyrhizobium japonicum and less so from the nifH promoters of Rhizobium meliloti and Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, consistent with previous observations that stimulation is greatest at promoters that are weak binding sites for sigma 54-holoenzyme in closed complexes.