Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are an important family of extracellular proteases that process a variety of biologically significant molecules. MMPs are members of the metzincin superfamily of >770 zinc endopeptidases, which includes astacins, serralysins, adamalysins, leishmanolysins, and snapalysins. Metzincins are characterized by an absolutely conserved methionine residue COOH-terminal to the third histidine in the consensus sequence HEXXHXXGXX(H/D), where the histidine residues chelate a catalytic zinc ion. The canonical methionine is part of a tight 1,4-beta-turn that loops the polypeptide chain beneath the catalytic zinc ion, forming a hydrophobic floor to the Zn(2+) ion binding site. The role of this methionine is uncertain, but its absolute conservation indicates an essential catalytic or structural function. To investigate this hypothesis, we replaced Met-392 that forms the Met-turn of human MMP-2 (gelatinase A) by site-directed mutagenesis. The catalytic competence of leucine and serine mutants was assessed. (M392L)MMP-2 and (M392S)MMP-2 cleaved the physiological substrates gelatin, native type I collagen, and the chemokine monocyte chemoattractant protein-3 with similar efficiency to wild-type MMP-2. These mutants also cleaved two quenched fluorescent peptide substrates with a k(cat)/K(m) comparable to wild-type MMP-2 and underwent 4-aminophenylmercuric acetate-induced autoactivation with similar kinetics. (M392L)MMP-2 and (M392S)MMP-2 were inhibited by tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases (TIMP)-1, -2, and -4 and by the zinc chelators 1,10-phenanthroline and a synthetic hydroxamate inhibitor, Batimastat, similar to the wild-type protein, indicating an unaltered active site topography. A tryptic susceptibility assay also suggested that (M392L)MMP-2 and (M392S)MMP-2 were correctly folded. These results challenge the dogma that this methionine residue and the Met-turn, which are absolutely conserved in all of the subfamilies of the metzincins, play an essential role in catalysis or active site structure.