Although intensive investigations have been conducted on the allosteric enzyme, aspartate transcarbamoylase, which catalyzes the first committed reaction in the biosynthesis of pyrimidines in Escherichia coli, little is known about the role of individual amino acid residues in catalysis or regulation. Two inactive enzymes produced by random mutagenesis have been characterized previously but the loss of activity is probably attributable to changes in the folding of the chains stemming from the introduction of charged and bulky residues (Asp for Gly-128 and Phe for Ser-52). Site-directed mutagenesis of pyrB, which encodes the catalytic chains of the enzyme, was used to probe the functional roles of several amino acids by making more conservative substitutions. Replacement of Lys-84 by either Gln or Arg leads to virtually inactive enzymes, confirming chemical studies indicating that Lys-84 is essential for catalysis. In contrast, substitution of Gln for Lys-83 has only a slight effect on enzyme activity, whereas chemical modification causes considerable inactivation. Gln-133, which has been shown by x-ray crystallography to reside near the contact region between the catalytic and regulatory chains, was replaced by Ala. This substitution has little effect on catalytic activity but leads to a marked increase in cooperativity. The Gln-83 mutant, in contrast, exhibits much less cooperativity. Since a histidine residue may be involved in catalysis and His-134 has been shown by x-ray diffraction studies to be in close proximity to the site of binding of a bisubstrate analog, His-134 was replaced by Ala, yielding a mutant with only 5% wild-type activity, considerable cooperativity, and lower affinity for aspartate and carbamoylphosphate. All of the mutants, unlike those in which charged or bulky residues replaced small side chains, bind the bisubstrate analog, which promotes the characteristic "swelling" of the enzymes indicative of the allosteric transition.