Computer analysis of the three-dimensional structure of ADP-ribosylating toxins showed that in all toxins the NAD-binding site is located in a cavity. This cavity consists of 18 contiguous amino acids that form an alpha-helix bent over a beta-strand. The tertiary folding of this structure is strictly conserved despite the differences in the amino acid sequence. Catalysis is supported by two spatially conserved amino acids, each flanking the NAD-binding site. These are: a glutamic acid that is conserved in all toxins, and a nucleophilic residue, which is a histidine in the diphtheria toxin and Pseudomonas exotoxin A, and an arginine in the cholera toxin, the Escherichia coli heat-labile enterotoxins, the pertussis toxin and the mosquitocidal toxin of Bacillus sphaericus. The latter group of toxins presents an additional histidine that appears important for catalysis. This structure suggests a general mechanism of ADP-ribosylation evolved to work on different target proteins.