The Agrobacterium tumefaciens Ti plasmid virG locus, in conjunction with virA and acetosyringone, activates transcription of the virulence (vir) genes. Insertional and deoxyoligonucleotide-directed mutagenesis studies showed that both octopine and nopaline Ti plasmid virG genes initiate translation at a UUG codon. VirG protein initiated at this UUG codon was found to be 241 amino acid residues in length and had an apparent molecular mass of 27.1 kilodaltons. A Salmonella typhimurium trp-virG transcriptional fusion was constructed to overproduce VirG. Agrobacterium cells containing this gene fusion showed a large increase in virG activity in the presence of virA and acetosyringone. Since the trp promoter is not under virA-virG control, this result indicates that modification of VirG is necessary for its full activity. VirG overproduced in Escherichia coli was purified from inclusion bodies. It was found to be a DNA-binding protein that preferentially bound DNA fragments containing the 5' nontranscribed regions of the virA, -B, -C, -D, and -G operons. Significant specific binding to the 5' nontranscribed region sequences of virE was not detected. DNase I footprinting of the upstream regions of virC-virD and virG showed that VirG binds to sequences around the vir box region.