Abstract We have investigated the structure of complexes formed between a series of poly(A) n ( n = 30 to 480) and HD40 (helix-destabilizing protein, molecular weight of 40,000), the major protein component of 30 S heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein particles (hnRNP) from the brine shrimp Artemia salina. Protein HD40 is similar to corresponding hnRNP proteins from higher eukaryotes and the complexes it forms with single-stranded nucleic acids are strikingly similar to the native “beads-on-a-string” structure of hnRNP. Using analytical ultracentrifugation and electron microscopy we find: (1) complexes formed between HD40 and long ribohomopolymers also have a beads-on-a-string structure, showing that the ability to form this structure is an inherent property of HD40, and is not dependent on any structural features of natural RNA; (2) complexes between HD40 and poly(A) 160 form disks that are about 3 nm high by 18 nm in diameter and contain 20 HD40 molecules; (3) complexes of HD40 with poly(A) n with fewer than 160 nucleotides form sectors of a disk: 40 nucleotides give rise to a quarter of a disk, 80 nucleotides, half a disk, etc. The molecular weights increase with the size of poly(A) n at the rate of 5300 per nucleotide, a stoichiometry of eight nucleotides per HD40; (4) as the size of the poly(A) n increases beyond 160 nucleotides, the additional nucleoprotein elements may either initiate the formation of a second disk adjacent to the first or stack on top of the first disk to form a 6 nm high helix with a diameter of 18 nm. Based on these results, we propose that the existence of lateral protein-protein interactions that produce the basic 3 nm × 18 nm disk, combined with the marginal stability of the helix result in (a) interruptions of the helix that give rise to the beads-on-a-string appearance of the complexes, and (b) inherent heterogeneity of individual “beads” which may contain one or more turns of the helix. From measurements of HD40 complexes with coliphage MS2 RNA, φX174 viral DNA as well as with the homopolymers, a bead is estimated to contain an average of ~300 nucleotides; ~1.8 turns of the helix.