Coumarins are inhibitors of the ATP hydrolysis and DNA supercoiling reactions catalysed by DNA gyrase. Their target is the B subunit of gyrase (GyrB), encoded by the gyrB gene. The exact mode and site of action of the drugs is unknown. We have identified four mutations conferring coumarin resistance to Escherichia coli: Arg-136 to Cys, His or Ser and Gly-164 to Val. In vitro, the ATPase and supercoiling activities of the mutant GyrB proteins are reduced relative to the wild-type enzyme and show resistance to the coumarin antibiotics. Significant differences in the susceptibility of mutant GyrB proteins to inhibition by either chlorobiocin and novobiocin or coumermycin have been found, suggesting wider contacts between coumermycin and GyrB. We discuss the significance of Arg-136 and Gly-164 in relation to the notion that coumarin drugs act as competitive inhibitors of the ATPase reaction.