N-acetylanthranilate amidase (Amq), a 32.8-kDa monomeric amide hydrolase, is involved in quinaldine degradation by Arthrobacter nitroguajacolicus Rü61a. Sequence analysis and secondary structure predictions indicated that Amq is related to carboxylesterases and belongs to the alpha/beta-hydrolase-fold superfamily of enzymes; inactivation of (His(6)-tagged) Amq by phenylmethanesulfonyl fluoride and diethyl pyrocarbonate and replacement of conserved residues suggested a catalytic triad consisting of S155, E235, and H266. Amq is most active towards aryl-acetylamides and aryl-acetylesters. Remarkably, its preference for ring-substituted analogues was different for amides and esters. Among the esters tested, phenylacetate was hydrolyzed with highest catalytic efficiency (k(cat)/K(m) = 208 mM(-1) s(-1)), while among the aryl-acetylamides, o-carboxy- or o-nitro-substituted analogues were preferred over p-substituted or unsubstituted compounds. Hydrolysis by His(6)Amq of primary amides, lactams, N-acetylated amino acids, azocoll, tributyrin, and the acylanilide and urethane pesticides propachlor, propham, carbaryl, and isocarb was not observed; propanil was hydrolyzed with 1% N-acetylanthranilate amidase activity. The catalytic properties of the cysteine-deficient variant His(6)AmqC22A/C63A markedly differed from those of His(6)Amq. The replacements effected some changes in K(m)s of the enzyme and increased k(cat)s for most aryl-acetylesters and some aryl-acetylamides by factors of about three to eight while decreasing k(cat) for the formyl analogue N-formylanthranilate by several orders of magnitude. Circular dichroism studies indicated that the cysteine-to-alanine replacements resulted in significant change of the overall fold, especially an increase in alpha-helicity of the cysteine-deficient protein. The conformational changes may also affect the active site and may account for the observed changes in kinetic properties.