Hydrophobic core residues have a marked influence on the Ca2+-binding properties of calbindin D9k, even though there are no direct contacts between these residues and the bound Ca2+ ions. Eleven different mutants with substitutions in the hydrophobic core were produced, and their equilibrium Ca2+-binding constants measured from Ca2+ titrations in the presence of chromophoric chelators. The Ca2+-dissociation rate constants were estimated from Ca2+ titrations followed by 1H NMR1 and were measured more accurately using stopped-flow fluorescence. The parameters were measured at four KCl concentrations to assess the salt dependence of the perturbations. The high similarity between the NMR spectra of mutants and wild-type calbindin D9k suggests that the structure is largely unperturbed by the substitutions. More detailed NMR investigations of the mutant in which Val61 is substituted by Ala showed that the mutation causes only very minimal perturbations in the immediate vicinity of residue 61. Substitutions of alanines or glycines for bulky residues in the center of the core were found to have significant effects on both Ca2+ affinity and dissociation rates. These substitutions caused a reduction in affinity and an increase in off-rate. Small effects, both increases and decreases, were observed for substitutions involving residues far from the Ca2+ sites and toward the outer part of the hydrophobic core. The mutant with the substitution Phe66 --> Trp behaved differently from all other mutants, and displayed a 25-fold increase in overall affinity of binding two Ca2+ ions and a 6-fold reduction in calcium dissociation rate. A strong correlation (R = 0.94) was found between the observed Ca2+-dissociation rates and affinities, as well as between the salt dependence of the off-rate and the distance to the nearest Ca2+-coordinating atom. There was also a strong correlation (R = 0.95) between the Ca2+ affinity and stability of the Ca2+ state and a correlation (R = 0. 69) between the Ca2+ affinity and stability of the apo state, as calculated from the results in the present and preceding paper in this issue [Julenius, K., Thulin, E., Linse, S., and Finn, B. E. (1998) Biochemistry 37, 8915-8925]. The change in salt dependencies of koff and cooperativity were most pronounced for residues completely buried in the core of the protein (solvent accessible surface area approximately 0). Altogether, the results suggest that the hydrophobic core residues promote Ca2+ binding both by contributing to the preformation of the Ca2+ sites in the apo state and by preferentially stabilizing the Ca2+-bound state.