Amino acids located within and around the 'active site gorge' of human acetylcholinesterase (AChE) were substituted. Replacement of W86 yielded inactive enzyme molecules, consistent with its proposed involvement in binding of the choline moiety in the active center. A decrease in affinity to propidium and a concomitant loss of substrate inhibition was observed in D74G, D74N, D74K and W286A mutants, supporting the idea that the site for substrate inhibition and the peripheral anionic site overlap. Mutations of amino acids neighboring the active center (E202, Y337 and F338) resulted in a decrease in the catalytic and the apparent bimolecular rate constants. A decrease in affinity to edrophonium was observed in D74, E202, Y337 and to a lesser extent in F338 and Y341 mutants. E202, Y337 and Y341 mutants were not inhibited efficiently by high substrate concentrations. We propose that binding of acetylcholine, on the surface of AChE, may trigger sequence of conformational changes extending from the peripheral anionic site through W286 to D74, at the entrance of the 'gorge', and down to the catalytic center (through Y341 to F338 and Y337). These changes, especially in Y337, could block the entrance/exit of the catalytic center and reduce the catalytic efficiency of AChE.