G protein alpha subunits mediate activation of signaling pathways through G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) by virtue of GTP-dependent conformational rearrangements. It is known that regions of disorder in crystal structures can be indicative of conformational flexibility within a molecule, and there are several such regions in G protein alpha subunits. The amino-terminal 29 residues of Galpha are alpha-helical only in the heterotrimer, where they contact the side of Gbeta, but little is known about the conformation of this region in the active GTP bound state. To address the role of the Galpha amino-terminus in G-protein activation and to investigate whether this region undergoes activation-dependent conformational changes, a site-directed cysteine mutagenesis study was carried out. Engineered Galpha(i1) proteins were created by first removing six native reactive cysteines to yield a mutant Galpha(i1)-C3S-C66A-C214S-C305S-C325A-C351I that no longer reacts with cysteine-directed labels. Several cysteine substitutions along the amino-terminal region were then introduced. All mutant proteins were shown to be folded properly and functional. An environmentally sensitive probe, Lucifer yellow, linked to these sites showed a fluorescence change upon interaction with Gbetagamma and with activation by AlF(4)(-). Other fluorescent probes of varying charge, size, and hydrophobicity linked to amino-terminal residues also revealed changes upon activation with bulkier probes reporting larger changes. Site-directed spin-labeling studies showed that the N-terminus of the Galpha subunit is dynamically disordered in the GDP bound state, but adopts a structure consistent with an alpha-helix upon interaction with Gbetagamma. Interaction of the resulting spin-labeled Galphabetagamma with photoactivated rhodopsin, followed by rhodopsin-catalyzed GTPgammaS binding, caused the amino-terminal domain of Galpha to revert to a dynamically disordered state similar to that of the GDP-bound form. Together these results suggest conformational changes occur in the amino-termini of Galpha(i) proteins upon subunit dissociation and upon activating conformational changes. These solution studies reveal insights into conformational changes that occur dynamically in solution.