The kinetics of the NADPH-dependent reduction of 7,8-dihydrofolate, folate, and 7,8-dihydrobiopterin by human dihydrofolate reductase have been examined over the pH range from 4.0 to 9.5. The V and V/K profiles obtained with the three substrates indicate that a single ionizing residue at the active site of the enzyme must be protonated for catalysis. Both the maximum velocity of the reactions and the rate of interaction of the substrates with the enzyme-NADPH complex decrease in the order dihydrofolate greater than dihydrobiopterin much greater than folate. From the pK values of the V/K profiles, it can be concluded that, while dihydrofolate behaves as a sticky substrate and dihydrobiopterin exhibits slight stickiness, folate is not a sticky substrate. Further support for this conclusion comes from the results of deuterium isotope effects. The pK values obtained from both the V and V/Kfolate profiles are similar to the intrinsic pK value of 5.6 for both the free enzyme and the enzyme-NADPH complex. The folate analogue, 5-deazafolate, is not a substrate, but it undergoes strong interaction with the enzyme. This interaction, which is enhanced by the presence of NADPH, is due to protonation of the bound ligand that does not involve the single ionizing group at the active center of the enzyme. Difference spectra yield evidence for the protonation of bound 5-deazafolate and show that, on binding to the enzyme-NADPH complex, the pK of the N-8 atom is raised to about 10 from a value of about 4 in solution. The results are in accord with those of a recent paper on the three-dimensional structure of the enzyme-5-deazafolate complex [Davies, J.F., Delcamp, T.J., Prendergast, N.J., Ashfors, V.A., Freisheim, J.H., & Kraut, J. (1990) Biochemistry 29, 9467-9479] which indicate that there is hydrogen bond formation between N-8 of the ligand and the carbonyl group of Ile-7. However, the present findings do not support the idea that bound 5-deazafolate resembles the transition-state complex for folate reduction. Quinazolines also interact strongly with the enzyme but in a pH-independent manner. The dissociation constants for the binary complexes are an order of magnitude lower than that for the binding to the enzyme of unprotonated 5-deazafolate. This difference reflects the hydrophobic nature of the amino acid residues at the active site that are near the N-5 and N-8 nitrogens of bound pterins.