Tn3 and related transposons have terminal inverted repeats (IR) of about 38 bp that are needed as sites for transposition. We made mini-Tn3 derivatives which had a wild-type IR of Tn3 at one end and either the divergent IR of the Tn3-related transposon, gamma delta or IS101, or a mutant IR of Tn3 at the other end. We then examined both in vivo transposition (cointegration between transposition donor and target molecules) of these mini-Tn3 elements and in vitro binding of Tn3-encoded transposase to their IRs. None of the elements with an IR of gamma delta or IS101 mediated cointegration efficiently. This was due to inefficient binding of transposase to these IR. Most mutant IR also interfered with cointegration, even though transposase bound to some mutant IR as efficiently as it did to wild type. This permitted the Tn3 IR sequence to be divided into two domains, named A and B, with respect to transposase binding. Domain B, at positions 13-38, was involved in transposase binding, whereas domain A, at positions 1-10, was not. The A domain may contain the sequence recognized by some other (e.g., host) factor(s) to precede the actual cointegration event.