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A heterodimer of importin alpha and importin beta accomplishes the nuclear import of proteins carrying classical nuclear localization signals (NLS). The interaction between the two import factors is mediated by the IBB domain of importin alpha and involves an extended recognition surface as shown by X-ray crystallography. Using a combination of biochemical and biophysical techniques we have investigated the formation of the importin beta:IBB domain complex in solution. Our data suggest that upon binding to the IBB domain, importin beta adopts a compact, proteolytically resistant conformation, while simultaneously the IBB domain folds into an alpha helix. We suggest a model to describe how these dual mutually induced conformational changes may orchestrate the nuclear import of NLS cargo in vivo.