Kinetic constants for the interaction of NADH and NADPH with native rat dihydropteridine reductase (DHPR) and an Escherichia coli expressed mutant (D-37-I) have been determined. Comparison of kcat and Km values measured employing quinonoid 6,7-dimethyldihydropteridine (q-PtH2) as substrate indicate that the native enzyme has a considerable preference for NADH with an optimum kcat/Km of 12 microM-1 s-1 compared with a figure of 0.25 microM-1 s-1 for NADPH. Although the mutant enzyme still displays an apparent preference for NADH (kcat/Km = 1.2 microM-1 s-1) compared with NADPH (kcat/Km = 0.6 microM-1 s-1), kinetic analysis indicates that NADH and NADPH have comparable stickiness in the D-37-I mutant. The dihydropteridine site is less affected, since the Km for q-PtH2 and K(is) for aminopterin are unchanged and the 14-26-fold synergy seen for aminopterin binding to E.NAD(P)H versus free E is decreased by less than 2-fold in the D-37-I mutant. No significant changes in log kcat and log kcat/Km versus pH profiles for NADH and NADPH were seen for the D-37-I mutant enzyme. However, the mutant enzyme is less stable to proteolytic degradation, to elevated temperature, and to increasing concentrations of urea and salt than the wild type. NADPH provides maximal protection against inactivation in all cases for both the native and D-37-I mutant enzymes. Examination of the rat DHPR sequence shows a typical dinucleotide binding fold with Asp-37 located precisely in the position predicted for the acidic residue that participates in hydrogen bond formation with the 2'-hydroxyl moiety of all known NAD-dependent dehydrogenases. This assignment is consistent with x-ray crystallographic results that localize the aspartate 37 carboxyl within ideal hydrogen bonding distance of the 2'- and 3'-hydroxyl moieties of adenosine ribose in the binary E.NADH complex.