The phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase α (PI3Kα) is a heterodimeric enzyme that is composed of a p85α regulatory subunit and a p110α catalytic subunit. PI3Kα plays a critical role in cell survival, growth and differentiation, and is the most frequently mutated pathway in human cancers. The PI3Kα pathway is also targeted by many viruses, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1), the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) or the influenza A virus, to create favorable conditions for viral replication. The regulatory p85α stabilizes the catalytic p110α but keeps it in an inhibited state. Various ligands can bind to p85α and allosterically activate p110α, but the mechanisms are still ill-defined. Intriguingly, p85α also binds to and activates, the PTEN phosphatase, which is the antagonist of p110α. Previous studies indicated that only p85α monomers bind to the catalytic p110α subunit, whereas only p85α dimers bind to PTEN. These findings suggest that the balance of p85α monomers and dimers regulates the PI3Kα pathway and that interrupting this equilibrium could lead to disease development. However, the molecular mechanism for p85α dimerization is controversial, and it is unknown why PTEN only binds to p85α dimers, whereas p110α only binds to p85α monomers. Here we set out to elucidate these questions and to gain further understanding of how p85α ligands influence p85α dimerization and promote activation of p110α. We first established a comprehensive library of p85α fragments and protocols for their production and purification. By combining biophysical and structural methods such as small angle X-ray scattering, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, microscale thermophoresis, and chemical crosslinking, we investigated the contributions of all p85α domains to dimerization and ligand binding. We found that p85α dimerization and ligand recognition are mechanistically more complex and interconnected than previously thought This finding allows us to suggest a molecular mechanism that links p85α dimerization and allosteric p110α activation through ligands.