Nucleolin, also called protein C23, is a RNA-associated protein implicated in the early stages of ribosome assembly. To study the general conformation and map the nucleic acid binding regions, rat nucleolin was subjected to limited proteolysis using trypsin and chymotrypsin in the presence or absence of poly(G). The cleavage sites were classified according to their locations in the three putative domains: the highly polar amino-terminal domain, the central nucleic acid binding domain, which contains four 90-residue repeats, and the carboxyl-terminal domain, which is rich is glycine, dimethylarginine, and phenylalanine. The most labile sites were found in basic segments of the amino-terminal domain. This region was stabilized by Mg2+. At low enzyme concentrations, cleavage by trypsin or chymotrypsin in the amino-terminal domain was enhanced by poly(G). Trypsin produced a relatively stable 48-kDa fragment containing the central and carboxyl-terminal domains. The enhanced cleavage suggests that binding of nucleic acid by the central domain alters the conformation of the amino-terminal domain, exposing sites to proteolytic cleavage. At moderate enzyme concentrations, the 48-kDa fragment was protected by poly(G) against tryptic digestion. At the highest enzyme contentrations, both enzymes cleaved near the boundaries between repeats 2, 3, and 4 with some sites protected by poly(G), suggesting that the repeats themselves form compact units. The carboxyl-terminal domain was resistant to trypsin but was cleaved by chymotrypsin either in the presence or in the absence of poly(G), indicating exposure of some phenylalanines in this region. These studies provide a general picture of the topology of nucleolin and suggest that the nucleic acid binding region communicates with the amino-terminal domain.