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CYP51 (sterol 14 alpha-demethylase) is an essential enzyme in sterol biosynthetic pathways and the only P450 gene family having catalytically identical orthologues in different biological kingdoms. The proteins have low sequence similarity across phyla, and the whole family contains about 40 completely conserved amino acid residues. Fifteen of these residues lie in the secondary structural elements predicted to form potential substrate recognition sites within the P450 structural fold. The role of 10 of these residues, in the B' helix/BC loop, helices F and G, has been studied by site-directed mutagenesis using as a template the soluble sterol 14 alpha-demethylase of known structure, CYP51 from Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MT) and the human orthologue. Single amino acid substitutions of seven residues (Y76, F83, G84, D90, L172, G175, and R194) result in loss of the ability of the mutant MTCYP51 to metabolize lanosterol. Residual activity of D195A is very low, V87A is not expressed as a P450, and A197G has almost 1 order of magnitude increased activity. After purification, all of the mutants show normal spectral properties, heme incorporation, and the ability to be reduced enzymatically and to interact with azole inhibitors. Profound influence on the catalytic activity correlates well with the spectral response to substrate binding, effect of substrate stabilization on the reduced state of the P450, and substrate-enhanced efficiency of enzymatic reduction. Mutagenesis of corresponding residues in human CYP51 implies that the conserved amino acids might be essential for the evolutionary conservation of sterol 14 alpha-demethylation from bacteria to mammals.