Prolyl 4-hydroxylases (EC 1.14,11.2) catalyze the formation of 4-hydroxyproline in collagens and other proteins with collagen-like sequences. The vertebrate type I and type II enzymes are [alpha (I)]2 beta 2 and [alpha (II)]2 beta 2 tetramers, respectively, whereas the enzyme from the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is an alpha beta dimer. The type I enzyme is the major form in most but not all vertebrate tissues. The catalytic properties of the various enzyme forms are highly similar, but there are distinct, although small, differences in K(m) values for various peptide substrates between the enzyme forms and major differences in Ki values for the competitive inhibitor, poly(L-proline). Prolyl 4-hydroxylase requires Fe2+, 2-oxoglutarate, O2 and ascorbate. Kinetic studies and theoretical considerations have led to elucidation of the reaction mechanism, and recent extensive site-directed mutagenesis studies have identified five critical residues at the cosubstrate binding sites. A number of compounds have been characterized that inhibit it competitively with respect to some of the cosubstrates, and three groups of suicide inactivators have also been identified. The beta subunit in all forms of prolyl 4-hydroxylase is identical to protein disulfide isomerase (PDI), a multifunctional polypeptide that also serves as a subunit in the microsomal triglyceride transfer protein, as a chaperone-like polypeptide that probably assists folding of a number of newly synthesized proteins, and in several other functions. The main role of the PDI polypeptide as a protein subunit is probably related to its chaperone function. Recent expression studies of recombinant human prolyl 4-hydroxylase subunits in a yeast have indicated that the formation of a stable enzyme tetramer in vivo requires coexpression of collagen polypeptide chains.