The internal residue Phe 25 in Rhodobacter sphaeroides thioredoxin was changed to five amino acids (Ala, Val, Leu, Ile, Tyr) by site-directed mutagenesis, and the mutant proteins were characterized in vitro and in vivo using the mutant trxA genes in an Escherichia coli TrxA- background. The substitution F25A severely impaired the functional properties of the enzyme. Strains expressing all other mutations can grow on methionine sulfoxide with growth efficiencies of 45-60% that of the wild type at 37 degrees, and essentially identical at 42 degrees. At both temperatures, however, strains harboring the substitutions F25V and F25Y had lower growth rates and formed smaller colonies. In another in vivo assay, only the wild type and the F25I substitution allowed growth of phage T3/7 at 37 degrees, demonstrating that subtle modifications of the protein interior at position 25 Ile/Leu or Phe/Tyr) can produce significant biological effects. All F25 mutants were good substrates for E. coli thioredoxin reductase. Although turnover rates and apparent Km values were significantly lower for all mutants compared to the wild type, catalytic efficiency of thioredoxin reductase was similar for all substrates. Determination of the free energy of unfolding showed that the aliphatic substitutions (Val, Leu, Ile) significantly destabilized the protein, whereas the F25Y substitution did not affect protein stability. Thus, thermodynamic stability of R. sphaeroides thioredoxin variants is not correlated with the distinct functional effects observed both in vivo and in vitro.