An N-terminal domain histidine [corresponding to position 39 of UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) 1A1] is conserved in all UGT1A and UGT2B subfamily proteins except UGT1A4 (Pro-40) and UGT2B10 (Leu-34). Unlike most UGT1A and UGT2B xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes, UGT1A4 and UGT2B10 lack the ability to glucuronidate 4-methylumbelliferone (4MU) and 1-naphthol (1NP), both planar phenols, and naproxen (a carboxylic acid). However, only UGT1A4 glucuronidates the tertiary amines lamotrigine (LTG) and trifluoperazine (TFP). In this study, we sought to elucidate the influence of specific N-terminal histidine and proline residues on UGT enzyme substrate selectivity. The conserved N-terminal domain histidine of UGT1A1, UGT1A6, UGT1A9, and UGT2B7 was mutated to proline and leucine 34 of UGT2B10 was substituted with histidine, and the capacity of the wild-type and mutant proteins to glucuronidate 4MU, 1NP, LTG, TFP, and naproxen was characterized. Whereas UGT1A1(H39P), UGT1A6(H38P), and UGT1A9(H37P) lacked the ability to metabolize 4MU, 1NP, and naproxen, all glucuronidated LTG. K(m) values for UGT1A1(H39P) and UGT1A9(H37P) were 774 and 3812 microM, respectively, compared with 1579 microM for UGT1A4. UGT1A1(H39P) also glucuronidated TFP with a V(max)/K(m) value comparable to that of UGT1A4. In contrast to the wild-type enzyme, UGT2B10(L34H) glucuronidated 4MU and 1NP with respective K(m) values of 260 and 118 microM. UGT2B7(H35P) lacked activity toward all substrates. The data confirm a pivotal role for an N-terminal domain proline in the glucuronidation of the tertiary amines LTG and TFP by UGT1A subfamily proteins, whereas glucuronidation reactions involving proton abstraction generally, although not invariably, require a histidine at the equivalent position in both UGT1A and UGT2B enzymes.