hisH encodes imidazole acetol phosphate (IAP) aminotransferase in Zymomonas mobilis and is located immediately upstream of tyrC, a gene which codes for cyclohexadienyl dehydrogenase. A plasmid containing hisH was able to complement an Escherichia coli histidine auxotroph which lacked the homologous aminotransferase. DNA sequencing of hisH revealed an open reading frame of 1,110 bp, encoding a protein of 40,631 Da. The cloned hisH product was purified from E. coli and estimated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis to have a molecular mass of 40,000 Da. Since the native enzyme had a molecular mass of 85,000 Da as determined by gel filtration, the active enzyme species must be a homodimer. The purified enzyme was able to transaminate aromatic amino acids and histidine in addition to histidinol phosphate. The existence of a single protein having broad substrate specificity was consistent with the constant ratio of activities obtained with different substrates following a variety of physical treatments (such as freeze-thaw, temperature inactivation, and manipulation of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate content). The purified enzyme did not require addition of pyridoxal 5'-phosphate, but dependence upon this cofactor was demonstrated following resolution of the enzyme and cofactor by hydroxylamine treatment. Kinetic data showed the classic ping-pong mechanism expected for aminotransferases. Km values of 0.17, 3.39, and 43.48 mM for histidinol phosphate, tyrosine, and phenylalanine were obtained. The gene structure around hisH-tyrC suggested an operon organization. The hisH-tyrC cluster in Z. mobilis is reminiscent of the hisH-tyrA component of a complex operon in Bacillus subtilis, which includes the tryptophan operon and aroE. Multiple alignment of all aminotransferase sequences available in the database showed that within the class I superfamily of aminotransferases, IAP aminotransferases (family I beta) are closer to the I gamma family (e.g., rat tyrosine aminotransferase) than to the I alpha family (e.g., rat aspartate aminotransferase or E. coli AspC). Signature motifs which distinguish the IAP aminotransferase family were identified in the region of the active-site lysine and in the region of the interdomain interface.