The N-terminal domain (1-318 amino acids) of mouse NFkappaB (p65) has been purified to homogeneity from the soluble fraction of Escherichia coli cells expressing this protein. Its complex with a full-length ikappaB-alpha (MAD3, 1-317 amino acids) molecule was generated by binding the E. coli-derived ikappaB-alpha to the purified NFkappaB and purifying the complex by sequential chromatography. The stoichiometry of NFkappaB to ikappaB in the complex was determined to be 2 to 1 by light scattering and SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The secondary structure of the NFkappaB (p65) determined by Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy is in good agreement with that of the p50 in the crystal structure of the p50/DNA complex, indicating that no significant structural change in NFkappaB occurs upon binding of DNA. The FTIR spectrum of the NFkappaB/ikappaB complex indicates that its secondary structure is composed of 17% alpha-helix, 39% beta-strand, 18% irregular structures, and 26% beta-turns and loops. By comparing these data to the FTIR data for NFkappaB alone, it is concluded that the ikappaB (MAD3) in the complex contains 35% alpha-helix, 27% beta-strand, 22% irregular structures, and 16% beta-turns and loops. Circular dichroism (CD) analysis of a shorter form of ikappaB (pp40) indicates that it contains at least 20% alpha-helix and that the ikappaB subunit accounts for nearly all of the alpha-helix present in the NFkappaB/ikappaB complex, consistent with the FTIR results. The stabilities of NFkappaB, ikappaB, and their complex against heat-induced denaturation were investigated by following changes in CD signal. The results indicate that the thermal stability of ikappaB is enhanced upon the formation of the NFkappaB/ikappaB complex.