Dihydroprymidine dehydrogenase catalyzes the first and rate-limiting step in pyrimidine degradation by converting pyrimidines to the corresponding 5,6- dihydro compounds. The three-dimensional structures of a binary complex with the inhibitor 5-iodouracil and two ternary complexes with NADPH and the inhibitors 5-iodouracil and uracil-4-acetic acid were determined by x-ray crystallography. In the ternary complexes, NADPH is bound in a catalytically competent fashion, with the nicotinamide ring in a position suitable for hydride transfer to FAD. The structures provide a complete picture of the electron transfer chain from NADPH to the substrate, 5-iodouracil, spanning a distance of 56 A and involving FAD, four [Fe-S] clusters, and FMN as cofactors. The crystallographic analysis further reveals that pyrimidine binding triggers a conformational change of a flexible active-site loop in the alpha/beta-barrel domain, resulting in placement of a catalytically crucial cysteine close to the bound substrate. Loop closure requires physiological pH, which is also necessary for correct binding of NADPH. Binding of the voluminous competitive inhibitor uracil-4-acetic acid prevents loop closure due to steric hindrance. The three-dimensional structure of the ternary complex enzyme-NADPH-5-iodouracil supports the proposal that this compound acts as a mechanism-based inhibitor, covalently modifying the active-site residue Cys-671, resulting in S-(hexahydro-2,4-dioxo-5-pyrimidinyl)cysteine.