The structures of the complexes of carboxypeptidase A with the amino acids D-phenylalanine and D-tyrosine are reported as determined by x-ray crystallographic methods to a resolution of 2.0 A. In each individual study one molecule of amino acids binds to the enzyme in the COOH-terminal hydrophobic pocket: the carboxylate of the bound ligand salt links with Arg-145, and the alpha-amino group salt links with Glu-270. The carboxylate of Glu-270 must break its hydrogen bond with the native zinc-bound water molecule in order to exploit the latter interaction. This result is in accord with spectroscopic studies which indicate that the binding of D or L amino acids (or analogues thereof) allows for more facile displacement of the metal-bound water by anions (Bicknell, R., Schaffer, A., Bertini, I., Luchinat, C., Vallee, B. L., and Auld, D. S. (1988) Biochemistry 27, 1050-1057). Additionally, we observe a significant movement of the zinc-bound water molecule (approximately 1 A) upon the binding of D-ligands. We propose that this unanticipated movement also contributes to anion sensitivity. The structural results of the current x-ray study correct predictions made in an early model building study regarding the binding of D-phenylalanine (Lipscomb, W. N., Hartsuck, J. A., Reeke, G. N., Jr., Quiocho, F. A., Bethge, P. H., Ludwig, M. L., Steitz, T. A., Muirhead, H., and Coppola, J. C. (1968) Brookhaven Symp. Biol. 21, 24-90).