A set of mutants of protein kinase A (PKA) in which Gln-127 was replaced by Gln, Asp, Asn, and Arg was prepared. Their Km and Vmax values show that the negative charge of Glu-127 (not merely its hydrogen bonding capacity) is indispensable for the kinase activity, since Glu-127/Gln is inactive, in spite of the fact that it can form hydrogen bonds and is very similar in bulkiness and conformation to wt-PKA. Glu-127 is involved in the biorecognition of PKA, interacting ionically with the positively charged guanido group of Arg P-3 (a major recognition element in the consensus sequence of PKA). In support of this conclusion, it is shown that a regression of the Glu-127 carboxylate by 1.54 A (as in Glu-127/Asp) results in an active kinase with a similar thermal stability and susceptibility to conformation-dependent proteolysis, a similar Vmax, an identical Km for ATP, but a > 20-fold higher Km for kemptide. The two inactive mutants of PKA, Glu-127/Gln and Glu-127/Asn, are potentially useful for studying protein-protein interactions of PKA, e.g. for monitoring enzymatically the displacement of active PKA from its complexes.