Nonphosphorylating nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (phosphate)-dependent aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDHs) catalyze the oxidation of aldehydes into either nonactivated acids or CoA-activated acids. The NADP-dependent nonphosphorylating glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPN) belongs to the first subclass. It catalyzes the irreversible oxidation of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate into 3-phosphoglycerate via a two step mechanism in which deacylation is rate-limiting. Recent studies on GAPN from Streptococcus mutans have shown that residue Glu268 plays an essential role only in the deacylation step [Marchal, S., Rahuel-Clermont, S. & Branlant, G. (2000) Biochemistry 39, 3327-3335]. The substitution of Glu268 by alanine or glutamine leads to mutants in which the attacking water molecule involved in the hydrolytic process is poorly activated. Activity can be restored by the presence of hydroxylamine and hydrazine. Neutral and protonated forms of both nucleophiles are recognized by the deacylating subsite of both mutants. pH rate profiles of deacylation show pK(a) values of 6.3 and 8.1 with hydroxylamine and hydrazine, respectively, which are those of the nucleophiles in solution. The increase in enzymatic rate is probably due to a high local concentration and not to a change of the chemical reactivity of both nucleophiles upon their binding within the active site of both mutants. The deacylation subsite of the wild-type also binds hydroxylamine and hydrazine but as inhibitors of the hydrolytic process and not as acyl acceptors. Altogether, the results point out the crucial role of the carboxyl group of Glu268 in preventing nucleophiles, other than water, from binding as efficient acyl acceptors. This may also explain why CoA-dependent ALDHs never possesses a glutamate residue at position 268.