TfdA is an Fe(II)- and alpha-ketoglutarate- (alphaKG-) dependent dioxygenase that hydroxylates the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) producing a hemiacetal that spontaneously decomposes to 2,4-dichlorophenol and glyoxylate. On the basis of a recently published TfdA structural model [Elkins et al. (2002) Biochemistry 41, 5185-5192], His214, Lys71, Arg278, and the backbone amide of Ser117 are suggested to bind the 2,4-D carboxylate; Lys95 and possibly Lys71 are hypothesized to interact with the 2,4-D ether atom; and Arg274 and Thr141 are suspected to bind alphaKG. TfdA variants with substitutions at these and other positions were purified and characterized in order to explore the roles of these residues in catalysis. The K71L, K71Q, K95L, K95Q, R274Q, R274L, and R278Q variants exhibited significantly increased 2,4-D K(m), alphaKG K(m), and alphaKG K(d) values, consistent with their proposed roles in substrate binding. A protease-sensitive site was successfully eliminated in the R78Q variant, which also exhibited decreased affinity for 2,4-D. In contrast, the Y81F, Y126F, T141V, Y169F, and Y244F variants showed only modest changes in their kinetics. An observed 4-fold lower K(m) of the K95L variant compared to wild-type protein with the alternative substrate 2,4-dichlorocinnamic acid provided additional evidence for an interaction between Lys95 and the 2,4-D ether atom. Phenylpropiolic acid was identified as a mechanism-based inactivator of the enzyme [K(i) = 38.1 +/- 6.0 microM and k(inact)(max) = 2.3 +/- 0.1 min(-1)]. This acetylenic compound covalently modifies a peptide (166-AEHYALNSR-174) that is predicted to form one side of the substrate-binding pocket. The K95L variant of TfdA was not inactivated by phenylpropiolic acid, providing added support that Lys95 is present at the active site. These results support the identity of suspected substrate-binding residues derived from structural modeling studies and extend our understanding of the oxidative chemistry carried out by TfdA.