Among the seven known isozymes of carbonic anhydrase in higher vertebrates, isozyme III is the least efficient in catalytic hydration of CO2 and the least susceptible to inhibition by sulfonamides. We have investigated the role of two basic residues near the active site of human carbonic anhydrase III (HCA III), lysine 64 and arginine 67, to determine whether they can account for some of the unique properties of this isozyme. Site-directed mutagenesis was used to replace these residues with histidine 64 and asparagine 67, the amino acids present at the corresponding positions of HCA II, the most efficient of the carbonic anhydrase isozymes. Catalysis by wild-type HCA III and mutants was determined from the initial velocity of hydration of CO2 at steady state by stopped-flow spectrophotometry and from the exchange of 18O between CO2 and water at chemical equilibrium by mass spectrometry. We have shown that histidine 64 functions as a proton shuttle in carbonic anhydrase by substituting histidine for lysine 64 in HCA III. The enhanced CO2 hydration activity and pH profile of the resulting mutant support this role for histidine 64 in the catalytic mechanism and suggest an approach that may be useful in investigating the mechanistic roles of active-site residues in other isozyme groups. Replacing arginine 67 in HCA III by asparagine enhanced catalysis of CO2 hydration 3-fold compared with that of wild-type HCA III, and the pH profile of the resulting mutant was consistent with a proton transfer role for lysine 64. Neither replacement enhanced the weak inhibition of HCA III by acetazolamide or the catalytic hydrolysis of 4-nitrophenyl acetate.