The high-resolution structure of the 43 kDa N-terminal fragment of the DNA gyrase B protein shows a large cavity within the protein dimer. The approximate size of this cavity is 20 A, suggesting it could accommodate a DNA helix. Computer-modelling studies of this cavity suggest that it contains a constriction, reducing the width to approximately 13 A, principally caused by the side chain of Arg286. We have used site-directed mutagenesis to alter this residue to Gln. Gyrase bearing this mutation shows virtually no supercoiling activity and near-normal relaxation and DNA cleavage activities. The mutated protein has ATPase activity which cannot be stimulated by DNA. These data support the proposed role of the 43 kDa domain as an ATP-operated clamp which binds DNA during the supercoiling cycle. The lack of DNA-dependent ATPase of the mutant may indicate that binding of DNA within the clamp is a prerequisite for stimulation of the ATPase activity.