Nicotinamide dinucleotide binding to transhydrogenase purified from Escherichia coli was investigated by attenuated total reflectance-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy. Detergent-free transhydrogenase was deposited as a thin film on an ATR prism, and spectra were recorded during perfusion with buffers in the presence and absence of dinucleotide (NADP(+), NADPH, NAD(+), or NADH) in both H(2)O and D(2)O media. IR spectral changes were attributable to the bound dinucleotides and to changes in the protein itself. The dissociation constant of NADPH was estimated to be approximately 5 muM from a titration of the magnitude of the IR changes against the nucleotide concentration. IR spectra of related model compounds were used to assign principle bands of the dinucleotides. This information was combined with IR data on amino acids and with protein crystallographic data to identify interactions between specific parts of the dinucleotides and their binding sites in the protein. Several IR bands of bound nucleotide were sharpened and/or shifted relative to those in aqueous solution, reflecting a restriction to motion and a change in environment upon binding. Alterations in the protein secondary structure indicated by amide I/II changes were distinctly different for NADP(H) and for NAD(H) binding. The data suggest that NADP(H) binding leads to perturbation of a deeply buried part of the polypeptide backbone and to protonation of a carboxylic acid residue.