The phosphotriesterase from Pseudomonas diminuta catalyzes the hydrolysis of a wide array of phosphotriesters and related phosphonates, including organophosphate pesticides and military nerve agents. It has now been shown that this enzyme can also catalyze the hydrolysis of phosphodiesters, albeit at a greatly reduced rate. However, the enzymatic hydrolysis of ethyl-4-nitrophenyl phosphate (compound I) by the wild-type enzyme was > 108 times faster than the uncatalyzed reaction (k(cat) = 0.06 s-1 and K(m) = 38 mM). Upon the addition of various alkylamines to the reaction mixture, the k(cat)/K(m) for the phosphodiester (compound I) increased up to 200-fold. Four mutant enzymes of the phosphotriesterase were constructed in a preliminary attempt to improve phosphodiester hydrolysis activity of the native enzyme. Met-317, which is thought to reside in close proximity to the pro-S-ethoxy arm of the paraoxon substrate, was mutated to arginine, alanine, histidine, and lysine. These mutant enzymes showed slight improvements in the catalytic hydrolysis of organophosphate diesters. The M317K mutant enzyme displayed the most improvement in catalytic activity (k(cat) = 0.34 s-1 and K(m) = 30 mM). The M317A mutant enzyme catalyzed the hydrolysis of the phosphodiester (compound I) in the presence of alkylamines up to 200 times faster than the wild-type enzyme in the absence of added amines. The neutralization of the negative charge on the oxygen atom of the phosphodiester by the ammonium cation within the active site is thought to be responsible for the rate enhancement by these amines in the hydrolytic reaction. These results demonstrate that an active site optimized for the hydrolysis of organophosphate triesters can be made to catalyze the hydrolysis of organophosphate diesters.