During localization to the periplasmic space or to the outer membrane of Escherichia coli some proteins are dependent on binding to the cytosolic chaperone SecB, which in turn is targeted to the membrane by specific interaction with SecA, a peripheral component of the translocase. Five variant forms of SecB, previously demonstrated to be defective in mediating export in vivo (Gannon, P. M., and Kumamoto, C. A. (1993) J. Biol. Chem. 268, 1590-1595; Kimsey, H. K., Dagarag, M. D., and Kumamoto, C. A. (1995) J. Biol. Chem. 270, 22831-22835) were investigated with respect to their ability to bind SecA both in solution and at the membrane translocase. We present evidence that at least two regions of SecA are involved in the formation of active complexes with SecB. The variant forms of SecB were all capable of interacting with SecA in solution to form complexes with stability similar to that of complexes between SecA and wild-type SecB. However, the variant forms were defective in interaction with a separate region of SecA, which was shown to trigger a change that was correlated to activation of the complex. The region of SecA involved in activation of the complexes was defined as the extreme carboxyl-terminal 21 aminoacyl residues.