The recent structural determination of Escherichia coli penicillin-binding protein 5 (PBP 5) provides the opportunity for detailed structure-function studies of this enzyme. PBP 5 was investigated in terms of its stability, linear reaction kinetics, acyl-donor substrate specificity, inhibition by a number of active site-directed reagents, and pH profile. PBP 5 demonstrated linear reaction kinetics for up to several hours. Dilution of PBP 5 generally resulted in substantial loss of activity, unless BSA or a BSA derivative was added to the diluting buffer. PBP 5 did not demonstrate a significant preference against a simple set of five alpha- and epsilon-substituted L-Lys-D-Ala-D-Ala derivatives, suggesting that PBP 5 lacks specificity for the cross-linked state of cell wall substrates. Among a number of active site-directed reagents, only some thiol-directed reagents gave substantial inhibition. Notably, serine-directed reagents, organic phosphates, and simple boronic acids were ineffective as inhibitors. PBP 5 was stable over the pH range 4.6-12.3, and the k(cat)/K(m) vs. pH profile for activity against Ac(2)-L-Lys-D-Ala-D-Ala was bell-shaped, with pK(a)s at 8.2 and 11.1. This is the first complete pH profile, including both acidic and basic limbs, for a PBP-catalyzed DD-carboxypeptidase (CPase) reaction. Based on its structure, similarity to Class A beta-lactamases, and results from mutagenesis studies, the acidic and basic limbs of the pH profile of PBP 5 are assigned to Lys-47 and Lys-213, respectively. This assignment supports a role for Lys-47 as the general base for acylation and deacylation reactions.