The XPA (xeroderma pigmentosum group A) gene encodes a protein of 273 amino acids with a zinc finger motif. The human XPA cDNA was placed in an Escherichia coli expression vector for the synthesis of the recombinant XPA protein. The molecular weight of the wild-type protein was about 40 kDa in SDS-PAGE. Microinjection of the wild-type protein specifically restored the defect of UV-induced unscheduled DNA synthesis in XP-A cells. Thus, the bacterially expressed XPA protein retains biochemical properties identical to those of natural sources. The wild-type protein binds preferentially to UV-, cis-diamminedichloroplatinum(II) (cisplatin)- or osmium tetroxide (OsO4)-damaged DNA as assayed by retention on nitrocellulose filters. In addition, the data from atomic absorption and UV-CD spectra revealed that the wild-type protein is a zinc metalloprotein with secondary structure. Furthermore, the mutant protein, of which the cysteine-103 residue in the zinc finger motif was replaced with serine, has a vastly different protein conformation resulting in a loss of XP-A correcting and DNA-binding activities. These findings indicate that the XPA protein is a zinc-binding protein with affinity for various DNA damages, and a cysteine residue in the C4-type zinc finger motif is indispensable for normal protein conformation.