Cytochrome P450 BM-3 catalyzes the high turnover regio- and stereoselective metabolism of arachidonic and eicosapentaenoic acids. To map structural determinants of productive active site fatty acid binding, we mutated two amino acid residues, arginine 47 and phenylalanine 87, which flank the surface and heme ends of the enzyme's substrate access channel, respectively. Replacement of arginine 47 with glutamic acid resulted in a catalytically inactive mutant. Replacement of arginine 47 with alanine yielded a protein with reduced substrate binding affinity and arachidonate sp3 carbon hydroxylation activity (72% of control wild type). On the other hand, arachidonic and eicosapentaenoic acid epoxidation was significantly enhanced (154 and 137%, of control wild type, respectively). As with wild type, the alanine 47 mutant generated (18R)-hydroxyeicosatetraenoic, (14S,15R)-epoxyeicosatrienoic, and (17S,18R)-epoxyeicosatetraenoic acids nearly enantiomerically pure. Replacement of phenylalanine 87 with valine converted cytochrome P450 BM-3 into a regio- and stereoselective arachidonic acid epoxygenase ((14S,15R)-epoxyeicosatrienoic acid, 99% of total products). Conversely, metabolism of eicosapentaenoic acid by the valine 87 mutant yielded a mixture of (14S,15R)- and (17S,18R)-epoxyeicosatetraenoic acids (26 and 69% of total, 94 and 96% optical purity, respectively). Finally, replacement of phenylalanine 87 with tyrosine yielded an inactive protein. We propose that: (a) fatty acid oxidation by P450 BM-3 is incompatible with the presence of residues with negatively charged side chains at the surface opening of the substrate access channel or a polar aromatic side chain in the vicinity of the heme iron; (b) the high turnover regio- and stereoselective metabolism of arachidonic and eicosapentaenoic acids involves charge-dependent anchoring of the fatty acids at the mouth of the access channel by arginine 47, as well as steric gating of the heme-bound oxidant by phenylalanine 87; and (c) substrate binding coordinates, as opposed to oxygen chemistries, are the determining factors responsible for reaction rates, product chemistry, and, thus, catalytic outcome.