The gene-specific transcription factor IIIA (TFIIIA) binds to the internal promoter element of the 5 S rRNA gene through nine zinc fingers which make specific DNA contacts. Seven of the nine TFIIIA zinc fingers participate in major groove DNA contacts while two fingers, 4 and 6, have been proposed to bind in or across the minor groove. Pyrrole-imidazole polyamides are minor groove binding ligands that recognize predetermined DNA sequences with affinity and specificity comparable to natural DNA-binding proteins. We have examined the DNA binding activity of nine finger TFIIIA and shorter recombinant analogs in the presence of polyamides that bind six base-pair sequences (Kd = 0.03 to 1.7 nM) in the minor groove of the binding site for zinc finger 4. DNase I footprint titrations demonstrate that the polyamides and a recombinant protein containing the three amino-terminal zinc fingers of TFIIIA (zf1-3) co-occupy the TFIIIA binding site, in agreement with the known location of zf1-3 in the major groove. In contrast, the polyamides block the specific interaction of TFIIIA or zf1-4 with the 5 S RNA gene, supporting a model for minor groove occupancy by zinc finger 4. Minor groove binding polyamides targeted to specific DNA sequences may provide a novel chemical approach to probing multidomain protein-DNA interactions.