The high mobility group (HMG) domain is a DNA-binding motif that is associated with several eukaryotic regulatory proteins, including the lymphoid enhancer-binding factor LEF-1 and the testis-determining factor SRY. Here, we provide evidence that DNA binding by the HMG domain of LEF-1 involves primarily minor groove contacts and induces a bend of approximately 130 degrees in the DNA helix. Bending was also found to accompany sequence-specific DNA binding by the SRY-HMG domain. Examining possible regulatory roles of HMG domain-induced DNA bends, we found that LEF-1 can function in a manner similar to bacterial integration host factor and facilitate communication between widely separated protein-binding sites in a recombination assay. Together with the previous observation that LEF-1 by itself is unable to augment basal promoter activity, these data suggest that HMG domain proteins can serve as "architectural" elements in the assembly of higher-order nucleoprotein structures.