Human erythrocyte pyrimidine 5'-nucleotidase, PN-I, catalyzes the dephosphorylation of pyrimidine nucleoside monophosphates. The enzyme also possesses phosphotransferase activity, transferring phosphate groups between pyrimidine nucleoside monophosphates and various pyrimidine nucleosides. Deficiency of the enzyme activity is associated with a hemolytic anemia. PN-I cDNA has been expressed in Escherichia coli, yielding a fully active recombinant enzyme, which was purified to homogeneity and extensively characterized. Multiple sequence alignment of PN-I and homologues proteins revealed the existence of conserved regions, whose importance in catalysis was examined by performing experiments designed to intercept covalent intermediates as strongly suggested by our previous kinetic studies. Furthermore, a functional analysis of the enzyme was carried out through site-directed mutagenesis designed on the basis of the sequence of the identified conserved regions as well as mutations observed in PN-I-deficient patients.