The combined activities of rabbit liver cytosolic serine hydroxymethyltransferase and C1-tetrahydrofolate synthase convert tetrahydrofolate and formate to 5-formyltetrahydrofolate. In this reaction C1-tetrahydrofolate synthase converts tetrahydrofolate and formate to 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate, which is hydrolyzed to 5-formyltetrahydrofolate by a serine hydroxymethyltransferase-glycine complex. Serine hydroxymethyltransferase, in the presence of glycine, catalyzes the conversion of chemically synthesized 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate to 5-formyltetrahydrofolate with biphasic kinetics. There is a rapid burst of product that has a half-life of formation of 0.4 s followed by a slower phase with a completion time of about 1 h. The substrate for the burst phase of the reaction was shown not to be 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate but rather a one-carbon derivative of tetrahydrofolate which exists in the presence of 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate. This derivative is stable at pH 7 and is not an intermediate in the hydrolysis of 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate to 10-formyltetrahydrofolate by C1-tetrahydrofolate synthase. Cytosolic serine hydroxymethyltransferase catalyzes the hydrolysis of 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate pentaglutamate to 5-formyltetrahydrofolate pentaglutamate 15-fold faster than the hydrolysis of the monoglutamate derivative. The pentaglutamate derivative of 5-formyltetrahydrofolate binds tightly to serine hydroxymethyltransferase and dissociates slowly with a half-life of 16 s. Both rabbit liver mitochondrial and Escherichia coli serine hydroxymethyltransferase catalyze the conversion of 5,10-methenyltetrahydrofolate to 5-formyltetrahydrofolate at rates similar to those observed for the cytosolic enzyme. Evidence that this reaction accounts for the in vivo presence of 5-formyltetrahydrofolate is suggested by the observation that mutant strains of E. coli, which lack serine hydroxymethyltransferase activity, do not contain 5-formyltetrahydrofolate, but both these cells, containing an overproducing plasmid of serine hydroxymethyltransferase, and wild-type cells do have measurable amounts of this form of the coenzyme.