The binding of the prototypical folate inhibitor of de novo purine synthesis, 5,10-dideazatetrahydrofolate (DDATHF), and its hexaglutamate to recombinant trifunctional mouse glycinamide ribonucleotide formyltransferase (rmGARFT) was studied by equilibrium dialysis and by steady-state kinetics using sensitive assays that allowed initial rate calculations. rmGARFT was expressed in insect cells infected with a recombinant baculovirus and purified by a two-step procedure that allowed production of about 25 mg of pure protein/L of culture. The binding of DDATHF to GARFT was approximately 50-fold tighter than previously reported, with Kd and Ki values of 2-9 nM, making the parent form of this antifolate a tight-binding inhibitor. The binding of the hexaglutamate of DDATHF to rmGARFT had Kd and Ki values of 0.1-0.3 nM, consistent with the view that polyglutamation enhances binding of antifolates to GARFT. Kinetic analyses using either mono- or hexaglutamate substrate did not yield different values for the Ki for the hexaglutamate form of DDATHF, in contradiction with previous reports. Both the folate substrate commonly used to study GARFT, 10-formyl-5,8-dideazafolate, and its hexaglutamate were found to have very low Km values, namely, 75 and 7.4 nM, respectively, and the folate reaction products for these substrates were equally potent inhibitors, results which modify the interpretation of previous kinetic experiments. The product analog DDATHF and beta-glycinamide ribonucleotide bound to enzyme equally well in the presence and absence of the other, an observation at variance with the concept that GARFT obeys an ordered sequential binding of the substrates. We conclude that the kinetics of mouse GARFT are most consistent with a random order of substrate binding, that both the inhibitor DDATHF and the folate substrate are tight-binding ligands, and that polyglutamate forms enhance the affinity of both substrate and inhibitor by an order of magnitude.