The metallo-beta-lactamase IMP-1 catalyzes the hydrolysis of a broad range of beta-lactam antibiotics to provide bacterial resistance to these compounds. In this study, 29 amino acid residue positions in and near the active-site pocket of the IMP-1 enzyme were randomized individually by site-directed mutagenesis of the corresponding codons in the bla(IMP-1) gene. The 29 random libraries were used to identify positions that are critical for the catalytic and substrate-specific properties of the IMP-1 enzyme. Mutants from each of the random libraries were selected for the ability to confer to Escherichia coli resistance to ampicillin, cefotaxime, imipenem or cephaloridine. The DNA sequence of several functional mutants was determined for each of the substrates. Comparison of the sequences of mutants obtained from the different antibiotic selections indicates the sequence requirements for each position in the context of each substrate. The zinc-chelating residues in the active site were found to be essential for hydrolysis of all antibiotics tested. Several positions, however, displayed context-dependent sequence requirements, in that they were essential for one substrate(s) but not others. The most striking examples included Lys69, Asp84, Lys224, Pro225, Gly232, Asn233, Asp236 and Ser262. In addition, comparison of the results for all 29 positions indicates that hydrolysis of imipenem, cephaloridine and ampicillin has stringent sequence requirements, while the requirements for hydrolysis of cefotaxime are more relaxed. This suggests that more information is required to specify active-site pockets that carry out imipenem, cephaloridine or ampicillin hydrolysis than one that catalyzes cefotaxime hydrolysis.