The genomes of Bacillus cereus and its closest relative Bacillus anthracis contain 10 polysaccharide deacetylase homologues. Six of these homologues have been proposed to be peptidoglycan N-acetylglucosamine deacetylases. Two of these genes, namely bc1960 and bc3618, have been cloned and expressed in Escherichia coli, and the recombinant enzymes have been purified to homogeneity and further characterized. Both enzymes were effective in deacetylating cell wall peptidoglycan from the Gram(+) Bacillus cereus and Bacillus subtilis and the Gram(-) Helicobacter pylori as well as soluble chitin substrates and N-acetylchitooligomers. However, the enzymes were not active on acetylated xylan. These results provide insight into the substrate specificity of carbohydrate esterase family 4 enzymes. It was revealed that both enzymes deacetylated only the GlcNAc residue of the synthetic muropeptide N-acetyl-D-glucosamine-(beta-1,4)-N-acetylmuramyl-L-alanine-D-isoglutamine. Analysis of the constituent muropeptides of peptidoglycan from B. subtilis and H. pylori resulting from incubation of the enzymes BC1960 and BC3618 with these polymers and subsequent hydrolysis by Cellosyl and mutanolysin, respectively, similarly revealed that both enzymes deacetylate GlcNAc residues of peptidoglycan. Kinetic analysis toward GlcNAc(2-6) revealed that GlcNAc4 was the favorable substrate for both enzymes. Identification of the sequence of N-acetychitooligosaccharides (GlcNAc(2-4)) following enzymatic deacetylation by using 1H NMR revealed that both enzymes deacetylate all GlcNAc residues of the oligomers except the reducing end ones. Enzymatic deacetylation of chemically acetylated vegetative peptidoglycan from B. cereus by BC1960 and BC3618 resulted in increased resistance to lysozyme digestion. This is the first biochemical study of bacterial peptidoglycan N-acetylglucosamine deacetylases.