Previously we have shown that nuclear extracts from mouse cells contain a heterogeneous group of polypeptides (p65, p80, p90, p100) which form distinct DNA-protein complexes on the 18 base-pair sequence element (termed Sal-box), which constitutes the murine rDNA transcription termination signal. These distinct proteins mediate cessation of RNA polymerase I (pol I) transcription elongation and release of the nascent RNA chains, indicating that they function as termination factor(s). Here, we report the biochemical analysis of the pol I-specific transcription termination factor TTFI. We show that the heterogeneity of TTFI is due to limited proteolysis of a larger, 130 kDa precursor protein (p130). The DNA-binding activity of p130 is strongly reduced as compared to the proteolytic derivatives, indicating that the DNA-binding domain is repressed within the full-length molecule. We have used limited proteolysis to purify and functionally characterize a TTFI core polypeptide (p50) which still specifically binds to the Sal-box target sequence and directs rDNA transcription termination. The equilibrium constant of purified p50 to bind specifically to DNA is 9 x 10(9) M-1. Additionally, we demonstrate that TTFI binds to DNA as a monomer and that binding induces DNA bending. This observation suggests that not only specific DNA-protein and protein-protein interactions but also conformational alterations of DNA may play a role in the termination process.