The Escherichia coli biotin repressor is an allosteric DNA binding protein and is activated by the small molecule bio-5'-AMP. Binding of this small molecule promotes transcription repression complex assembly between the repressor and the biotin operator of the biotin biosynthetic operon. The ability of the adenylate to activate the assembly process reflects its effect on biotin repressor dimerization. Thus concomitant with small molecule binding the free energy of repressor dimerization becomes more favorable by approximately -4 kcal/mol. The structural, dynamic, and energetic changes in the repressor monomer that accompany allosteric activation are not known. In this work the thermodynamics of binding of four allosteric activators to the repressor have been characterized by isothermal titration calorimetry. While binding of two of the effectors results in relatively modest activation of the dimerization process, binding of the other two small molecules, including the physiological effector, leads to large changes in repressor dimerization energetics. Results of the calorimetric measurements indicate that strong effector binding is accompanied by an enthalpically costly transition in the protein. This transition is "paid for" by the enthalpy that would have otherwise been realized from the formation of noncovalent bonds between the ligand and repressor monomer.