The human MDR1 (ABCB1) gene product, P-glycoprotein (Pgp), functions as an ATP-dependent efflux pump for a variety of chemotherapeutic drugs. In this study, we assessed the role of conserved glutamate residues in the Walker B domain of the two ATP sites (E556 and E1201, respectively) during the catalytic cycle of human Pgp. The mutant Pgps (E556Q, E556A, E1201Q, E1201A, E556/1201Q, and E556/1201A) were characterized using a vaccinia virus based expression system. Although steady-state ATP hydrolysis and drug transport activities were abrogated in both E556Q and E1201Q mutant Pgps, [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP was trapped in the presence of vanadate (Vi), and the release of trapped [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP occurred to a similar extent as in wild-type Pgp. This indicates that these mutations do not affect either the first hydrolysis event or the ADP release step. Similar results were also obtained when Glu residues were replaced with Ala (E556A and E1201A). Following the first hydrolysis event and release of [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP, both E556Q and E1201Q mutant Pgps failed to undergo another cycle of Vi-induced [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP trapping. Interestingly, the double mutants E556/1201Q and E556/1201A trapped [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP even in the absence of Vi, and the occluded nucleotide was not released after incubation at 37 degrees C for an extended period. In addition, the properties of transition state conformation of the double mutants generated in the absence of Vi were found to be similar to that of the wild-type protein trapped in the presence of Vi (Pgp x [alpha-(32)P]-8-azidoADP xVi). Thus, in contrast to the single mutants, the double mutants appear to be defective in the ADP release step. In aggregate, these data suggest that E556 and E1201 residues in the Walker B domains may not be critical as catalytic carboxylates for the cleavage of the bond between the gamma-P and the beta-P of ATP during hydrolysis but are essential for the second ATP hydrolysis step and completion of the catalytic cycle.