Rhodobacter sphaeroides phosphoribulokinase (PRK) is inactivated upon exposure to pyridoxal phosphate/sodium borohydride, suggesting a reactive lysine residue. Protection is afforded by a combination of the substrate ATP and the allosteric activator NADH, suggesting that the targeted lysine maps within the active site. PRK contains two invariant lysines, K53 and K165. PRK-K53M retains sensitivity to pyridoxal phosphate, implicating K165 as the target of this reagent. PRK-K165M retains wild-type structure, as judged by titration with effector NADH and the tight-binding alternative substrate trinitrophenyl-ATP. The catalytic activity of K165M and K165C mutants is depressed by >10(3)-fold. Residual activity of K165M is insensitive to pyridoxal phosphate, confirming K165 as the target of this reagent. The decreased catalytic efficiency of K165 mutants approaches the effect measured for a mutant of D169, which forms a salt-bridge to K165. K165M exhibits a 10-fold increase in S()1(/)()2 (ATP) and a 10(2)-fold increase in K(m) (Ru5P). To evaluate the contribution to Ru5P binding of K165 in comparison with this substrate's interaction with invariant H45, R49, R168, and R173, PRKs mutated at these positions have been used to determine relative K(i) values for 6-phosphogluconate, a competitive inhibitor with respect to Ru5P. Elimination of the basic side chain of K165, R49, and H45 results in increases in K(m) (Ru5P) which correlate well with the magnitude of increases in K(i) (phosphogluconate). In contrast, while mutations eliminating charge from R168 and R173 result in enzymes with substantial increases in K(m) (Ru5P), such mutant enzymes exhibit only small increases in K(i) (phosphogluconate). These observations suggest that K165, R49, and H45 are major contributors to Ru5P binding.