alpha-Glucan phosphorylases degrade linear or branched oligosaccharides via a glycosyl transfer reaction, occurring with retention of configuration, to generate alpha-glucose-1-phosphate (G1P). We report here the chemoenzymic synthesis of two incompetent oligosaccharide substrate analogues, 4-deoxymaltohexaose (4DG6) and 4-deoxymaltopentaose (4DG5), for use in probing this mechanism. A kinetic analysis of the interactions of 4DG5 and 4DG6 with both muscle and potato phosphorylases was completed to provide insight into the nature of the binding mode of oligosaccharide to phosphorylase. The 4-deoxy-oligosaccharides bind competitively with maltopentaose and non-competitively with respect to orthophosphate or G1P in each case, indicating binding in the oligosaccharide binding site. Further, 4DG5 and 4DG6 were found to bind to potato and muscle phosphorylases some 10-40-fold tighter than does maltopentaose. Similar increases in affinity as a consequence of 4-deoxygenation were observed previously for the binding of polymeric glycogen analogues to rabbit muscle phosphorylase [Withers (1990) Carbohydr. Res. 196, 61-73].