Tryptophan indole-lyase (Trpase) from Proteus vulgaris is a pyridoxal 5'-phosphate dependent enzyme that catalyzes the reversible hydrolytic cleavage of L-Trp to yield indole and ammonium pyruvate. Asp-133 and His-458 are strictly conserved in all sequences of Trpase, and they are located in the proposed substrate-binding region of Trpase. These residues were mutated to alanine to probe their role in substrate binding and catalysis. D133A mutant Trpase has no measurable activity with L-Trp as substrate, but still retains activity with S-(o-nitrophenyl)-L-cysteine, S-alkyl-L-cysteines, and beta-chloro-L-alanine. H458A mutant Trpase has 1.6% of wild-type Trpase activity with L-Trp, and high activity with S-(o-nitrophenyl)-L-cysteine, S-alkyl-L-cysteines, and beta-chloro-L-alanine. H458A mutant Trpase does not exhibit the pK(a) of 5.3 seen in the pH dependence of k(cat)/K(m) of L-Trp for wild-type Trpase. Both mutant enzymes are inhibited by L-Ala, L-Met, and L-Phe, with K(i) values similar to those of wild-type Trpase, but oxindolyl-L-alanine and beta-phenyl-DL-serine show much weaker binding to the mutant enzymes, suggesting that Asp-133 and His-458 are involved in the binding of these ligands. D133A and H458A mutant Trpase exhibit absorption and CD spectra in the presence of substrates and inhibitors that are similar to wild-type Trpase, with peaks at about 420 and 500 nm. The rate constants for formation of the 500 nm bands for the mutant enzymes are equal to or greater than those of wild-type Trpase, indicating that Asp-133 and His-458 do not play a role in the formation of quinonoid intermediates. In constrast to wild-type and H458A mutant Trpase, D133A mutant Trpase forms an intermediate from S-ethyl-L-Cys that absorbs at 345 nm, and is likely to be an alpha-aminoacrylate. Crystals of D133A and H458A mutant Trpase bind amino acids with similar affinity as the proteins in solution, except for L-Ala, which binds to D133A mutant Trpase crystals about 20-fold stronger than in solution. These results suggest that Asp-133 and His-458 play an important role in the elimination reaction of L-Trp. Asp-133 likely forms a hydrogen bond directly to the indole NH of the substrate, while His-458 probably is hydrogen bonded to Asp-133.