The nucleotide sequence of the Escherichia coli mhpB gene, encoding 2,3-dihydroxyphenylpropionate 1,2-dioxygenase, was determined by sequencing of a 3.1-kb fragment of DNA from Kohara phage 139. The inferred amino acid sequence showed 58% sequence identity with the sequence of an extradiol dioxygenase, MpcI, from Alcaligenes eutrophus and 10 to 20% sequence identity with protocatechuate 4,5-dioxygenase from Pseudomonas paucimobilis, with 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetate 2,3-dioxygenase from E. coli, and with human 3-hydroxyanthranilate dioxygenase. Sequence similarity between the N- and C-terminal halves of this new family of dioxygenases was detected, with conserved histidine residues in the N-terminal domain. A model is proposed to account for the relationship between this family of enzymes and other extradiol dioxygenases. The A. eutrophus MpcI enzyme was expressed in E. coli, purified, and characterized as a protein with a subunit size of 33.8 kDa. Purified MhpB and MpcI showed similar substrate specificities for a range of 3-substituted catechols, and evidence for essential histidine and cysteine residues in both enzymes was obtained.