The structure of the beta-lactamase SME-1 from Serratia marcescens, a class A enzyme characterized by its significant activity against imipenem, has been determined to 2.13 A resolution. The overall structure of SME-1 is similar to that of other class A beta-lactamases. In the active-site cavity, most of the residues found in SME-1 are conserved among class A beta-lactamases, except at positions 104, 105 and 237, where a tyrosine, a histidine and a serine are found, respectively, and at position 238, which is occupied by a cysteine forming a disulfide bridge with the other cysteine residue located at position 69. The crucial role played by this disulfide bridge in SME-1 was confirmed by site-directed mutagenesis of Cys69 to Ala, which resulted in a mutant unable to confer resistance to imipenem and all other beta-lactam antibiotics tested. Another striking structural feature found in SME-1 was the short distance separating the side chains of the active serine residue at position 70 and the strictly conserved glutamate at position 166, which is up to 1.4 A shorter in SME-1 compared with other class A beta-lactamases. Consequently, the SME-1 structure cannot accommodate the essential catalytic water molecule found between Ser70 and Glu166 in the other class A beta-lactamases described so far, suggesting that a significant conformational change may be necessary in SME-1 to properly position the hydrolytic water molecule involved in the hydrolysis of the acyl-enzyme intermediate.