A model of the Escherichia coli dTDP-glucose-4,6-dehydratase (4,6-dehydratase) active site has been generated by combining amino acid sequence alignment information with the 3-dimensional structure of UDP-galactose-4-epimerase. The active site configuration is consistent with the partially refined 3-dimensional structure of 4,6-dehydratase, which lacks substrate-nucleotide but contains NAD+ (PDB file 1BXK). From the model, two groups of active site residues were identified. The first group consists of Asp135DEH, Glu136DEH, Glu198DEH, Lys199DEH, and Tyr301DEH. These residues are near the substratepyranose binding pocket in the model, they are completely conserved in 4,6-dehydratase, and they differ from the corresponding equally well-conserved residues in 4-epimerase. The second group of residues is Cys187DEH, Asnl90DEH, and His232DEH, which form a motif on the re face of the cofactor nicotinamide binding pocket that resembles the catalytic triad of cysteine-proteases. The importance of both groups of residues was tested by mutagenesis and steady-state kinetic analysis. In all but one case, a decrease in catalytic efficiency of approximately 2 orders of magnitude below wild-type activity was observed. Mutagenesis of each of these residues, with the exception of Cys187DEH, which showed near-wild-type activity, clearly has important negative consequences for catalysis. The allocation of specific functions to these residues and the absolute magnitude of these effects are obscured by the complex chemistry in this multistep mechanism. Tools will be needed to characterize each chemical step individually in order to assign loss of catalytic efficiency to specific residue functions. To this end, the effects of each of these variants on the initial dehydrogenation step were evaluated using a the substrate analogue dTDP-xylose. Additional steady-state techniques were employed in an attempt to further limit the assignment of rate limitation. The results are discussed within the context of the 4,6-dehydratase active site model and chemical mechanism.