A methylation protection assay was used in a novel manner to demonstrate a specific bovine protein-mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) interaction within the organelle (in organello). The protected domain, located near the D-loop 3' end, encompasses a conserved termination-associated sequence (TAS) element which is thought to be involved in the regulation of mtDNA synthesis. In vitro footprinting studies using a bovine mitochondrial extract and a series of deleted mtDNA templates identified a approximately 48-kDa protein which binds specifically to a single TAS element also protected within the mitochondrion. Because other TAS-like elements located in close proximity to the protected region did not footprint, protein binding appears to be highly sequence specific. The in organello and in vitro data, together, provide evidence that D-loop formation is likely to be mediated, at least in part, through a trans-acting factor binding to a conserved sequence element located 58 bp upstream of the D-loop 3' end.