Human O6-alkylguanine-DNA alkyl transferase (hAGT) is a DNA repair protein that protects cells from alkylation damage by transferring an alkyl group from the O6-position of guanine to a cysteine residue in the active site (-PCHR-) of the protein. The structure of the hAGT protein (23 kDa) has been probed by limited proteolysis with trypsin and Glu-C endoproteases and analysis of the polypeptide fragments by SDS/PAGE. The native hAGT protein had limited accessibility to digestion with trypsin and Glu-C in spite of a number of potential cleavage sites. Initial cleavage by trypsin occurred at residue Lys-193 to give a 21 kDa polypeptide fragment, and this polypeptide underwent further cleavage at residues Arg-128 and Lys-165. These trypsin-cleavage sites became more accessible to digestion in the presence of double-stranded DNA (dsDNA), indicating that hAGT undergoes a change in its conformation on binding to DNA. However, the trypsin cutting site at the Arg-128 position was less available for digestion in the presence of single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), suggesting that the hAGT protein has a different conformation when bound to ssDNA compared with dsDNA. When protease digestion was carried out on wild-type protein, preincubated with the low-molecular-mass pseudosubstrate O6-benzylguanine, increased susceptibility to proteases was observed. A mutant C145A hAGT protein, which cannot repair O6-alkylguanine because the Cys-145 acceptor site in the active site of the protein is changed to Ala, showed identical trypsin cleavage to the wild type, but its digestion was not affected by O6-benzylguanine. These results suggest that alkylation of hAGT leads to an altered conformation. The acquisition of increased susceptibility to proteases upon DNA binding and alkylation demonstrates that hAGT undergoes considerable conformational changes in its structure upon binding to DNA and after repair of alkylation damage.