Methylation-interference assays have been used to identify guanine residues that make important contacts with RNA polymerase during open-complex formation at two related Escherichia coli promoters. Methylation of lower-strand G-31 at a gal consensus promoter completely prevents complex formation, while modification of upper-strand G-33 has no detectable effect. At galP1, which lacks a consensus -35 region, modification of lower-strand G-33 and upper-strand G-14 reduces, but does not prevent, complex formation. G-33 is the only guanine residue in the -35 region of galP1 where modification interferes with open-complex formation. Since this guanine residue is not protected in open complexes, we conclude that its modification causes alteration of, or interference with, a transient contact during the transcription initiation pathway.