Steroid 17 alpha-hydroxylase and 17,20-lyase activities reside within the same polypeptide chain (cytochrome P-450(17 alpha)), and consequently human 17 alpha-hydroxylase deficiencies are characterized by defects in either or both of these activities. Human mutants having these deficiencies represent an excellent source of material for investigation of P-450(17 alpha) structure-function relationships. The CYP17 gene from an individual having partial combined 17 alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase deficiency has been characterized structurally and the homozygous mutation found to be the deletion of the phenylalanine codon (TTC) at either amino acid position 53 or 54 in exon 1. Reconstruction of this mutation into a human P-450(17 alpha) cDNA followed by expression in COS 1 cells led to production of the same amount of immunodetectable P-450(17 alpha) protein as found with expression of the normal human P-450(17 alpha) cDNA. However, 17 alpha-hydroxylase activity of this mutant protein measured in intact cells was less than 37% of that observed upon expression of the wild-type enzyme, whereas 17,20-lyase activity of the mutant was less than 8% of that observed with the normal enzyme. When estimated in intact cells, the Km for 17 alpha-hydroxylation of progesterone was increased by a factor of 2 in the mutant enzyme, whereas the Vmax was reduced by a factor of 3. In order to estimate the kinetic parameters for the 17,20-lyase reaction, microsomes were isolated from transfected COS 1 cells to enrich for this activity. Surprisingly, the specific activity of the mutant 17 alpha-hydroxylase in microsomes was 3-fold less than that observed in intact cells, indicating that the structure of mutant P-450(17 alpha) was dramatically altered upon disruption of COS 1 cells. Apparently the deletion of a single phenylalanine in the N-terminal region of P-450(17 alpha) alters its folding in such a way that both enzymatic activities are dramatically decreased, leading to the partial combined deficiency observed in this individual.