The mammalian high mobility group protein A2 (HMGA2) is a chromosomal architectural transcription factor involved in oncogenesis and cell transformation. It has three "AT-hook" DNA binding domains, which specifically bind to the minor groove of AT DNAs. The interaction of HMGA2 with poly(dA-dT)2 and poly(dA)poly(dT) has been investigated using the ethidium displacement assay, isothermal titration calorimetry, and UV melting studies. Each AT hook DNA binding domain was found to bind to 5 bp and each HMGA2 molecule binds to 15 bp. Although an individual AT hook DNA binding domain binds to AT DNAs with moderate affinity, HMGA2 binds with very high affinity to both DNAs in solutions containing 20 mM Na+ at 25 degrees C. The K(a) and binding enthalpy for poly(dA-dT)2 were determined to be, respectively, 1.9x10(14)M(-1) and -29.1(+/-0.5)kcal/mol. The binding reaction is enthalpy-driven with a favorable free energy of -19.5 kcal/mol and unfavorable entropy of -32.5 cal/mol K (-TDeltaS= +9. 7kcal/mol) at a 1M reference state. Interestingly, although HMGA2 binds to poly(dA)poly(dT) with a binding constant of 9.6x10(12) M(-1), the binding reaction is entropy-driven with an unfavorable enthalpy of +0.6 kcal/mol, a free energy of -17.7 kcal/mol and an entropy of +61.4 cal/mol K (-TDeltaS=-18.3 kcal/mol) at the 1 M state. The enthalpy-entropy compensation is similar to that of several minor groove-binding drugs such as netropesin, distamycin A and Hoechst33258 and may be a reflection of dehydration difference of different ligand-DNA complexes. The salt-dependence of the binding constant of HMGA2 with both DNAs showed that electrostatic interaction is a dominant force for the binding reactions. The temperature dependence of binding enthalpy for poly(dA-dT)2 indicates a large heat capacity of binding of -705(+/-113) cal/molK, consistent with an important role of solvent displacement in the linked folding/binding processes in this system.