A hybrid Fv fragment of the dinitrophenyl-binding immunoglobulin A (IgA), MPOC315, has been generated by reconstituting a recombinant variable light chain (VL) produced in Escherichia coli with a variable heavy chain (VH) derived from the antibody. The Tyr34 residue of VL was substituted by His in order to introduce a catalytic imidazole into the combining site for the ester hydrolysis. The His mutant Fv accelerated the hydrolysis of the 7-hydroxycoumarin ester of 5-(2,4-dinitrophenyl)-aminopentanoic acid 90,000-fold compared to the reaction with 4-methyl imidazole at pH 6.8 and had an initial rate that was 45 times as great as that for the wild-type Fv. The hydrolyses of aminopropanoic and aminohexanoic homologs were not significantly accelerated. Thus a single deliberate amino acid change can introduce significant catalytic activity into an antibody-combining site, and chemical modification data can be used to locate potential sites for the introduction of catalytic residues.