Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) class I alpha1,2-mannosidase (also known as ER alpha-mannosidase I) is a critical enzyme in the maturation of N-linked oligosaccharides and ER-associated degradation. Trimming of a single mannose residue acts as a signal to target misfolded glycoproteins for degradation by the proteasome. Crystal structures of the catalytic domain of human ER class I alpha1,2-mannosidase have been determined both in the presence and absence of the potent inhibitors kifunensine and 1-deoxymannojirimycin. Both inhibitors bind to the protein at the bottom of the active-site cavity, with the essential calcium ion coordinating the O-2' and O-3' hydroxyls and stabilizing the six-membered rings of both inhibitors in a (1)C(4) conformation. This is the first direct evidence of the role of the calcium ion. The lack of major conformational changes upon inhibitor binding and structural comparisons with the yeast alpha1, 2-mannosidase enzyme-product complex suggest that this class of inverting enzymes has a novel catalytic mechanism. The structures also provide insight into the specificity of this class of enzymes and provide a blueprint for the future design of novel inhibitors that prevent degradation of misfolded proteins in genetic diseases.