We have solved the structure of Escherichia coli cytidine deaminase (CDA) complexed to the transition state analog, 5-fluoroprimidin-2-one riboside. The monomer of the alpha 2 CDA dimer is composed of a small N-terminal alpha-helical domain with no obvious connection to the active sites, and two, larger, core domains. The two core domains have nearly identical tertiary structures and are related by approximate 2-fold symmetry, but lack internal amino acid sequence homology. Comparison of the core domain structure with known structures by sequence homology and structural compatibility searches suggests that the CDA tertiary structure cannot be superimposed on any known protein structure. The two active sites per dimer are formed across the subunit interface. The N-terminal core domain provides a pyrimidine nucleoside and zinc-binding pocket and the structurally homologous C-terminal core domain in the other monomer covers this active-site cleft, completely sequestering the ligand from solvent. The deeply buried zinc-binding site is formed by a novel "topological switch point" at the amino termini of two alpha-helices in consecutive alpha-beta-alpha-beta segments. The transition state analog is bound as a covalent hydrate at C4. The inhibitor hydroxyl oxygen atom interacts both with the zinc atom and the Glu104 carboxylate group, affording high differential affinity for the hydroxyl group relative to a hydrogen atom, in a manner reminiscent of that observed in adenosine deaminase (ADA). Unlike the latter enzyme, the zinc atom is coordinated in a tetrahedral ligand field to two cysteine and one histidine ligands, plus the hydroxyl group. Moreover, the inhibitor stereochemistry is of the opposite hand from that of the corresponding ADA inhibitor at C4(R), but is the same at the hydroxyl group O4(S). A consequence of these stereochemical differences is that in CDA a single conserved carboxylate side-chain, Glu104, can provide all of the necessary proton transfer functions involved in generating the zinc hydroxide nucleophile, and protonating the pyrimidine ring nitrogen atom and leaving amino group. The differences in zinc ligands, ligand-binding stereochemistry, and tertiary structures of CDA and ADA strongly suggest that the common features of transition state stabilization arose by convergent evolution.