A key protein component (CBF3) of the budding yeast (S. cerevisiae) centromere/kinetochore has been purified and characterized. CBF3 is a 240 kd multisubunit protein complex that binds specifically to the yeast wild-type centromere DNA (CEN), but not to nonfunctional CEN DNA containing a single base substitution in the critical CDEIII consensus sequence. When purified by affinity chromatography, CBF3 contains three protein components: CBF3A (110 kd), CBF3B (64 kd), and CBF3C (58 kd). Highly purified CBF3 requires the presence of a separate assembly factor or chaperone activity to bind to CEN DNA. Treatment with phosphatase inactivates CBF3, indicating that at least one of the CBF3 subunits must be phosphorylated for DNA binding to occur. A 56 bp region including the 26 bp CDEIII consensus is protected from DNAase I cleavage in the CBF3-CEN DNA complex.