Protein L is a bacterial surface protein with 4-5 immunoglobulin (Ig)-binding domains (B1-B5), each of which appears to have two binding sites for Ig, corresponding to the two edges of its beta-sheet. To verify these sites biochemically and to probe their relative contributions to the protein L-Ig kappa light chain (kappa) interaction, we compared the binding of PLW (the Y47W mutant of the B1 domain) to that of mutants designed to disrupt binding to sites 1 and 2, using gel filtration, BIAcore surface plasmon resonance, fluorescence titration, and solid-phase radioimmunoassays. Gel filtration experiments show that PLW binds kappa both in 1:1 complexes and multivalently, consistent with two binding sites. Covalent dimers of the A20C and V51C mutants of PLW were prepared to eliminate site 1 and site 2 binding, respectively; both the A20C and V51C dimers bind kappa in 1:1 complexes and multivalently, indicating that neither site 1 nor site 2 is solely responsible for kappa binding. The A20R mutant was designed computationally to eliminate site 1 binding while preserving site 2 binding; consistent with this design, the A20R mutant binds kappa in 1:1 complexes but not multivalently. To probe the contributions of amino acid side chains to binding, we prepared 75 point mutants spanning nearly every residue of PLW; BIAcore studies of these mutants revealed two binding-energy "hot spots" consistent with sites 1 and 2. These data indicate that PLW binds kappa at both sites with similar affinities (high nanomolar), with the strongest contributions to the binding energy from Tyr34 (site 2) and Tyr36 (site 1). Compared to other protein-protein complexes, the binding is insensitive to amino acid substitutions at these sites, consistent with the large number of main chain interactions relative to side chain interactions. The strong binding of protein L to Ig kappa light chains of various species may result from the ambidextrous binding of the B1-B5 domains and the unimportance of specific side chain interactions.