The histidines in the bisphosphatase domain of rat liver 6-phosphofructo-2-kinase/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase were labeled with 15N, both specifically at N1' and globally, for use in heteronuclear single quantum correlation (HSQC) NMR spectroscopic analyses. The histidine-associated 15N resonances were assigned by correlation to the C2' protons which had been assigned previously [Okar et al., Biochemistry 38, 1999, 4471-79]. Acquisition of the 1H-15N HSQC from a phosphate-free sample demonstrated that the existence of His-258 in the rare N1' tautomeric state is dependent upon occupation of the phosphate binding site filled by the O2 phosphate of the substrate, fructose-2,6-bisphosphate, and subsequently, the phosphohistidine intermediate. The phosphohistidine intermediate is characterized by two hydrogen bonds involving the catalytic histidines, His-258 and His-392, which are directly observed at the N1' positions of the imidazole rings. The N1' of phospho-His-258 is protonated (1H chemical shift, 14.0 ppm) and hydrogen bonded to the backbone carbonyl of Gly-259. The N1' of cationic His-392 is hydrogen bonded (1H chemical shift, 13.5 ppm) to the phosphoryl moiety of the phosphohistidine. The existence of a protonated phospho-His-258 intermediate and the observation of a fairly strong hydrogen bond to the same phosphohistidine implies that hydrolysis of the covalent intermediate proceeds without any requirement for an 'activated' water. Using the labeled histidines as probes of the catalytic site mutation of Glu-327 to alanine revealed that, in addition to its function as the proton donor to fructose-6-phosphate during formation of the transient phosphohistidine intermediate at the N3' of His-258, this residue has a significant role in maintaining the structural integrity of the catalytic site. The 1H-15N HSQC data also provide clear evidence that despite being a surface residue, His-446 has a very acidic pK(a), much less than 6.0. On the basis of these observations a revised mechanism for fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase that is consistent with all of the previously published kinetic data and X-ray crystal structures is proposed. The revised mechanism accounts for the structural and kinetic consequences produced by mutation of the catalytic histidines and Glu-327. It also provides the basis for a hypothetical mechanism of bisphosphatase activation by cAMP-dependent phosphorylation of Ser-32, which is located in the N-terminal kinase domain.