Human glutaminyl cyclase (QC) was identified as a metalloenzyme as suggested by the time-dependent inhibition by the heterocyclic chelators 1,10-phenanthroline and dipicolinic acid. The effect of EDTA on QC catalysis was negligible. Inactivated enzyme could be fully restored by the addition of Zn2+ in the presence of equimolar concentrations of EDTA. Little reactivation was observed with Co2+ and Mn2+. Other metal ions such as K+, Ca2+, and Ni2+ were inactive under the same conditions. Additionally, imidazole and imidazole derivatives were identified as competitive inhibitors of QC. An initial structure activity-based inhibitor screening of imidazole-derived compounds revealed potent inhibition of QC by imidazole N-1 derivatives. Subsequent data base screening led to the identification of two highly potent inhibitors, 3-[3-(1H-imidazol-1-yl)propyl]-2-thioxoimidazolidin-4-one and 1,4-bis-(imidazol-1-yl)-methyl-2,5-dimethylbenzene, which exhibited respective Ki values of 818 +/- 1 and 295 +/- 5 nm. The binding properties of the imidazole derivatives were further analyzed by the pH dependence of QC inhibition. The kinetically obtained pKa values of 6.94 +/- 0.02, 6.93 +/- 0.03, and 5.60 +/- 0.05 for imidazole, methylimidazole, and benzimidazole, respectively, match the values obtained by titrimetric pKa determination, indicating the requirement for an unprotonated nitrogen for binding to QC. Similarly, the pH dependence of the kinetic parameter Km for the QC-catalyzed conversion of H-Gln-7-ami-no-4-methylcoumarin also implies that only N-terminally unprotonated substrate molecules are bound to the active site of the enzyme, whereas turnover is not affected. The results reveal human QC as a metal-dependent transferase, suggesting that the active site-bound metal is a potential site for interaction with novel, highly potent competitive inhibitors.