Crab collagenolytic serine protease 1 efficiently cleaves peptide bonds directly C-terminal to basic, polar, and hydrophobic amino acids. The crystal structure of this enzyme complexed to the protein inhibitor ecotin at 2.5 A resolution reveals a large primary binding pocket punctuated on one wall by the side chain of aspartate-226. Removal or relocation of this negatively charged group by site-directed mutagenesis generates variant enzymes which retain very high activities toward selected substrates. Full retention of activity toward hydrophobic substrates in collagenase D226G is accompanied by a 10-100-fold reduction in k(cat)/Km toward basic residues. In contrast, restoration of the negative charge in a trypsin-like position in collagenase D226G/G189D regenerates nearly full activity toward basic substrates while introducing a 5-fold decrease in k(cat)/Km toward hydrophobic amino acids. These results imply that the collagenase S1 pocket has multiple distinct binding sites for different amino acid side chains, a suggestion supported by molecular modeling studies based on the crystal structure. The ease of specificity modification in the primary binding site of this serine protease parallels similar observations with the bacterial enzymes alpha-lytic protease and subtilisin, and stands in sharp distinction to the extensive mutagenesis required to alter specificity in trypsin.