We used partially purified NhaR and a highly purified His-tagged NhaR derivative to identify the cis-regulatory sequences of nhaA recognized by NhaR and to study the specific effect of Na+ on this interaction. Gel retardation assay with DNase I footprinting analysis showed that NhaR binds a region of nhaA which spans 92 bp and contains three copies of the conserved LysR-binding motif. Na+, up to 100 mM, had no effect on the binding of NhaR to nhaA. The dimethylsulfate methylation protection assay in vivo and in vitro, showed that bases G-92, G-60, G-29 and A-24 form direct contacts with NhaR; in the absence of added Na+ in vivo, these bases were protected but became exposed to methylation in a DeltanhaR strain; accordingly, these bases were protected in vitro by the purified His-tagged NhaR. 100 mM Na+, but not K+, removed the protection of G-60 conferred by His-tagged NhaR in vitro. Exposure of intact cells to 100 mM Na+, but not K+, exposed G-60. The maximal effect of Na+ in vitro was observed at 20 mM and was pH dependent, vanishing below pH 7.5. In contrast to G-60, G-92 was exposed to methylation by the ion only in vivo, suggesting a requirement for another factor existing only in vivo for this interaction. We suggest that NhaR is both sensor and transducer of the Na+ signal and that it regulates nhaA expression by undergoing a conformational change upon Na+ binding which modifies the NhaR-nhaA contact points.