The Salmonella typhimurium and Escherichia coli MutS protein is one of several methyl-directed mismatch repair proteins that act together to correct replication errors. MutS is homologous to the Streptococcus pneumoniae HexA mismatch repair protein and to the Duc1 and Rep1 proteins of human and mouse. Homology between the deduced amino acid sequence of both MutS and HexA, and the type A nucleotide binding site consensus sequence, suggested that ATP binding and hydrolysis play a role in their mismatch repair functions. We found that MutS does indeed weakly hydrolyze ATP to ADP and Pi, with a Km of 6 microM and kcat of 0.26. To show that this activity is intrinsic to MutS, we made a site-directed mutation, which resulted in the invariant lysine of the nucleotide binding consensus sequence being changed to an alanine. The mutant MutS allele was unable to complement a mutS::Tn10 mutation in vivo, and was dominant over wild type when present in high copy number. The purified mutant protein had reduced ATPase activity, with the Km affected more severely than the kcat. Like the wild type MutS protein, the mutant protein is able to bind heteroduplex DNA specifically, but the mutant protein does so with a reduced affinity.