Multiple sequence alignment and analysis of evolutionary relationships have been used to characterize a family of polyol-specific long-chain dehydrogenases/reductases (PSLDRs). At the present time, 66 known and putative NAD(P)H-dependent oxidoreductases of mainly prokaryotic origin and between 357 and 544 amino acids in length constitute this family. The family is shown to include D-mannitol 2-dehydrogenase, D-mannonate 5-oxidoreductase, D-altronate 5-oxidoreductase, D-arabinitol 4-dehydrogenase, and D-mannitol-1-phosphate 5-dehydrogenase which form individual sub-families (defined by internal sequence identity of >/=30%) having distant origin and divergent substrate specificity but clearly displaying entire-chain relationship. When all forms are aligned, only three residues, Gly-33, Asp-230, and Lys-295 (in the numbering of Pseudomonas fluorescens D-mannitol 2-dehydrogenase (PsM2DH)) are strictly conserved. By combining sequence alignment with the known structure of PsM2DH and results from site-directed mutagenesis, we have developed a structure/function analysis for the family. Gly-33 is in the N-terminal coenzyme-binding domain and part of a nucleotide fingerprint region for the family, and Asp-230 and Lys-295 are at an interdomain segment contributing to the active site in which the lysine likely functions as the catalytic general acid/base. PSLDRs do not require a metal cofactor for activity and are specific for transferring the 4-pro-S hydrogen from NAD(P)H. Comparisons reveal that the core part of the two-domain fold has been conserved throughout all family members, perhaps reflecting the recruitment of a stable oxidoreductase structure and extensive trimming thereof to acquire functional properties specific to each sub-family. They also identify interactions that define the chemical mechanism of oxidoreduction and likely contribute to substrate and co-substrate specificities and are thus relevant for protein engineering.