- The regulation of open complex formation at the Escherichia coli galactose operon promoters by galactose repressor and catabolite activator protein/cyclic AMP (CAP/cAMP) was investigated in DNA-binding and kinetic experiments performed in vitro. We found that gal repressor and CAP/cAMP bind to the gal regulatory region independently, resulting in simultaneous occupancy of the two gal operators and the CAP/cAMP binding site. Both CAP/cAMP and gal repressor altered the partitioning of RNA polymerase between the two overlapping gal promoters. Open complexes formed in the absence of added regulatory proteins were partitioned between gal P1 and P2 with occupancies of 25% and 75%, respectively. CAP/cAMP caused open complexes to be formed nearly exclusively at P1 (98% occupancy). gal repressor caused a co-ordinated, but incomplete, switch in promoter partitioning from P1 to P2 in both the absence and presence of CAP/cAMP. We measured the kinetic constants governing open complex formation and decay at the gal promoters in the absence and presence of gal repressor and CAP/cAMP. CAP/cAMP had the largest effect on the kinetics of open complex formation, resulting in a 30-fold increase in the apparent binding constant. We conclude that the regulation of open complex formation at the gal promoters does not result from competition between gal repressor, CAP/cAMP and RNA polymerase for binding at the gal operon regulatory region, but instead results from the interactions of the three proteins during the formation of a nucleoprotein complex on the gal DNA fragment. Finally, we present a kinetic model for the regulation of open complex formation at the gal operon.