We report here the cloning and kinetic analysis of a family of catalytic antibodies raised against a common transition state (TS) analog hapten, which accelerate a unimolecular oxy-Cope rearrangement. Sequence analysis revealed close homologies among the heavy chains of the catalytically active members of this set of antibodies, which derive mainly from a single germline gene, whereas the light chains can be traced back to several different, but related germline genes. The requirements for hapten binding and catalytic activity were determined by the construction of hybrid antibodies. Characterization of the latter antibodies again indicates a strong conservation of binding site structure among the catalytically active clones. The heavy chain was found to be the determining factor for catalytic efficiency, while the light chain exerted a smaller modulating effect that depended on light chain gene usage and somatic mutations. Within the heavy chain, the catalytic activity of a clone, but not hapten binding affinity, depended on the sequence of the third complementarity determining region (CDR). No correlation between high affinity for the hapten and high rate enhancement was found in the oxy-Cope system, a result that stands in contrast to the expectations from transition state theory. A mechanistic explanation for this observation is provided based on the three-dimensional crystal structure of the most active antibody, AZ-28, in complex with the hapten. This study demonstrates the utility of catalytic antibodies in examining the relationship between binding energy and catalysis in the evolution of biological catalysis, as well as expanding our understanding of the molecular basis of an immune response.