To determine the requirements for hydrophobic amino acids at position 113 in cytochrome P450 2C2, a series of hydrophobic and uncharged polar amino acids was substituted for isoleucine in P450 2C2 and in C2MstC1, a chimera of P450 2C2 and P450 2C1. Lauric acid hydroxylase activity was determined in COS1 cells transfected with P450 2C2 mutants and both lauric acid and progesterone hydroxylase activities were determined for C2MstC1 variants. In P450 2C2, 40 to 120% of the wild type (omega-1) lauric acid hydroxylase activity was retained in all hydrophobic mutants, but activity was reduced to near background by substitutions of the polar amino acids, tyrosine and cysteine. Likewise, in C2MstC1 mutants, hydrophobic substitutions were 20 to 50% as active as wild type for lauric acid hydroxylation, and polar amino acids again resulted in strong reductions of activity. In contrast, a different pattern of activity for progesterone C21-hydroxylase was observed for C2MstC1 mutants. A valine substitution had a modest effect on activity but substitutions of leucine and alanine reduced progesterone C21-hydroxylase activity 5- to 7-fold, respectively, and the large hydrophobic amino acid, phenylalanine, reduced activity about 30-fold. No changes in the regiospecificity of progesterone hydroxylation were observed for any of the mutants. Similar steady-state levels of immunoprecipitated, radiolabeled protein were observed for each mutant except for the glycine substitution which resulted in degradation of the protein. The different patterns of the effects of the mutations on progesterone and lauric acid hydroxylase activity provide additional support for the critical role of residue 113 in substrate recognition. The low activities in mutant proteins with hydrophilic amino acid substitutions indicate that the hydrophobic nature of this residue is important. The hydrophobic requirements are more stringent for a larger, more rigid steroid substrate than for a saturated fatty acid with a flexible hydrocarbon tail.