To identify the active-site residues of the 3C proteinase of foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), we introduced mutations into the 3C coding region and examined the activity of mutant enzymes on various substrates. Based on alignment of FMDV 3C with other picornavirus 3C proteinases and with the trypsin family of serine proteinases, mutations were introduced at residues presumed to be part of the catalytic triad, involved in substrate binding, or present in nonconserved regions. Wild-type and mutant 3C proteins were expressed in Escherichia coli and tested for their ability to cleave synthetic substrates corresponding to different portions of the viral genome. Substitutions at His-46 (catalytic triad), Asp-84 (catalytic triad), or His-181 (substrate binding) produced enzymes unable to process P1, P2, or P3 substrates in trans, whereas a change in the conserved Asp-98 had no effect on enzyme activity. Substitution of Ser for Cys-163 (catalytic triad) yielded an enzyme that retained activity on some substrates, while a substitution of Gly at this position resulted in a completely inactive enzyme. The kinetics of trans processing of translation products from a transcript encoding the P1 and P2 coding regions and the 2C/3A cleavage site with wild-type 3C or a transcript encoding P1 with 3C mutants revealed that the order of cleavage was VP3-VP1, VP0-VP3, VP1-2A, 2C-3A, and 2B-2C. Mutations in 3C that resulted in a partially active enzyme were individually introduced into full-length FMDV cDNA and RNA transcripts were translated in a cell-free system and used to transfect cells. In all cases the virus that was rescued had reverted to the wild-type 3C codon.