Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) DNase possesses both endonuclease and exonuclease activities and accepts both double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) as substrates. To map regions of EBV DNase responsible for nuclease and DNA binding activities, a series of mutant DNase polypeptides was expressed using a bacterial system for the nuclease assay and in an in vitro transcription/translation system to assay binding activity to dsDNA or ssDNA cellulose. The results indicated that the C-terminus of EBV DNase, residues 450-460, is essential for nuclease activity but dispensable for DNA binding. However, deletion of residues 441-470 resulted in the loss of both nuclease and DNA binding activities. Substitution of Phe452 and Val458 led to inactive enzymes. In the N-terminus, deletion of residues 23-28 and residues 7-61 resulted in the loss of nuclease activity but the DNA binding activities of the deleted enzymes were intermediate and low, respectively. Mutation of Leu23 to Gly showed drastically reduced nuclease activity but its DNA binding ability was not affected. Based on the amino acid sequence alignment of various herpesvirus DNases, we chose four highly conserved and two less well conserved regions as controls for mutagenesis studies. These six internal deletion (ID) mutants were prepared using a recombinant PCR method. Each of the polypeptides was expressed in a bacterial system for the nuclease assay and using an in vitro transcription/translation system for the DNA binding assay. DNA binding and nuclease activities of all six internal deletion mutants were abolished, except that mutant ID2, with deletion of residues 138-152, retained an intermediate ability to bind DNA. These data indicate that since mutations at distinct regions within EBV DNase resulted in the loss of nuclease and/or DNA binding activities, it is suggested that these distinct regions are required for maintenance of an intact and highly ordered structure(s) for both activities.