Transhydrogenase comprises three domains. Domains I and III are peripheral to the membrane and possess the NAD(H)- and NADP(H)-binding sites, respectively, and domain II spans the membrane. Domain III of transhydrogenase from Rhodospirillum rubrum was expressed at high levels in Escherichia coli, and purified. The purified protein was associated with substoichiometric quantities of tightly bound NADP+ and NADPH. Fluorescence spectra of the domain III protein revealed emissions due to Tyr residues. Energy transfer was detected between Tyr residue(s) and the bound NADPH, indicating that the amino acid residue(s) and the nucleotide are spatially close. The rate constants for NADP+ release and NADPH release from domain III were 0.03 s-1 and 5.6 x 10(4) s-1, respectively. In the absence of domain II a mixture of the recombinant domain III protein, plus the previously described recombinant domain I protein, catalysed reduction of acetylpyridine-adenine dinucleotide (AcPdAD+) by NADPH (reverse transhydrogenation) at a rate that was limited by the release of NADP+ from domain III. Similarly, the mixture catalysed reduction of thio-NADP+ by NADH (forward transhydrogenation) at a rate limited by release of thio-NADPH from domain III. The mixture also catalysed very rapid reduction of AcPdAD+ by NADH, probably by way of a cyclic reaction mediated by the tightly bound NADP(H). Measurement of the rates of the transhydrogenation reactions during titrations of domain I with domain III and vice versa indicated (a) that during reduction of AcPdAD+ by NADPH, a single domain I protein can visit and transfer H equivalents to about 60 domain III proteins during the time taken for a single domain III to release its NADP+, whereas (b) the cyclic reaction is rapid on the timescale of formation and break-down of the domain I. III complex. The rate of the hydride transfer reaction was similar in the domain I.III complex to that in the complete membrane-bound transhydrogenase, but the rates of forward and reverse transhydrogenation were much slower in the I.III complex due to the greatly decreased rates of release of NADP+ and NADPH. It is concluded that, in the complete enzyme, conformational changes in the membrane-spanning domain II, which result from proton translocation, lead to changes in the binding affinity of domain III for NADP+ and for NADPH.