Beta-Lactamases (EC 126.96.36.199, 'penicillinases') are a family of enzymes that protect bacteria against the lethal effects of cell-wall synthesis of penicillins, cephalosporins and related antibiotic agents, by hydrolysing the beta-lactam antibiotics to biologically inactive compounds. Their production can, therefore, greatly contribute to the clinical problem of antibiotic resistance. Three classes of beta-lactamases--A, B and C--have been identified on the basis of their amino-acid sequence; class B beta-lactamases are metalloenzymes, and are clearly distinct from members of class A and C beta-lactamases, which both contain an active-site serine residue involved in the formation of an acyl enzyme with beta-lactam substrates during catalysis. It has been predicted that class C beta-lactamases share common structural features with D,D-carboxypeptidases and class A beta-lactamases, and further, suggested that class A and class C beta-lactamases have the same evolutionary origin as other beta-lactam target enzymes. We report here the refined three-dimensional structure of the class C beta-lactamase from Citrobacter freundii at 2.0-A resolution and confirm the predicted structural similarity. The refined structure of the acyl-enzyme formed with the monobactam inhibitor aztreonam at 2.5-A resolution defines the enzyme's active site and, along with molecular modelling, indicates a mechanism for beta-lactam hydrolysis. This leads to the hypothesis that Tyr 150 functions as a general base during catalysis.