Pseudomonas lemoignei has five different polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) depolymerase genes (phaZ1 to phaZ5), which encode the extracellularly localized poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) depolymerases C, B, and D, poly(3-hydroxyvalerate) (PHV) depolymerase, and PHB depolymerase A, respectively. Four of the five genes (phaZ1 to phaZ4) have been cloned, and one of them (phaZ1) was studied in detail earlier (D. Jendrossek, B. Müller, and H. G. Schlegel, Eur. J. Biochem. 218:701-710, 1993). The fifth PHA depolymerase gene (phaZ5) was identified by colony hybridization of recombinant Escherichia coli clones with a phaZ5-specific oligonucleotide. The nucleotide sequence of a 3,704-bp EcoRI fragment was determined and found to contain two large open reading frames (ORFs) which coded for a polypeptide with significant similarities to glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenases of various sources (313 amino acids; M(r), 32,193) and for the precursor of PHB depolymerase A (PhaZ5; 433 amino acids; M(r), 44,906). The PHV depolymerase gene (phaZ4) was subcloned, and the nucleotide sequence of a 3,109-bp BamHI fragment was determined. Two large ORFs (ORF3 and ORF4) that represent putative coding regions were identified. The deduced amino acid sequence of ORF3 (134 amino acids; M(r), 14,686) revealed significant similarities to the branched-chain amino acid aminotransferase (IlfE) of enterobacteria. ORF4 (1,712 bp) was identified as the precursor of a PHV depolymerase (567 amino acids; M(r), 59,947). Analysis of primary structures of the five PHA depolymerases of P. lemoignei and of the PHB depolymerases of Alcaligenes faecalis and Pseudomonas pickettii revealed homologies of 25 to 83% to each other and a domain structure: at their N termini, they have typical signal peptides of exoenzymes. The adjacent catalytic domains are characterized by several conserved amino acids that constitute putative catalytic triads which consist of the consensus sequence of serine-dependent hydrolases including the pentapeptide G-X-S-X-G, a conserved histidine and aspartate, and a conserved region resembling the oxyanion hole of lipases. C terminal of the catalytic domain an approximately 40-amino-acid-long threonine-rich region (22 to 27 threonine residues) is present in PhaZ1, PhaZ2, PhaZ3, and PhaZ5. Instead of the threonine-rich region PhaZ4 and the PHB depolymerases of A. faecalis and P. pickettii contain an approximately 90-amino-acid-long sequence resembling the fibronectin type III module of eucaryotic extracellular matrix proteins. The function of the fibronectin type III module in PHA depolymerases remains obscure. Two types of C-terminal sequences apparently represent substrate-binding sites; the PHB type is present in the PHB depolymerases of A. faecalis and P. pickettii and in PhaZ2, PhaZ3, and PhaZ5 and the PHV type is present in the PHV-hydrolyzing depolymerases (PhaZ4 and PhaZ1). phaZ1 was transferred to A. eutrophus H16 and JMP222. All transconjugants of both strains were able to grow with extracellular PHB as a carbon source and produced translucent halos on PHB-containing solid media. PhaZ1, PhaZ2, PhaZ4, and PhaZ5 were purified from P. lemoignei and from recombinant E. coli; the processing sites of the precursors in E. coli were the same as in P. lemoignei, and similar substrate specificities were determined for the wild-type and the recombinant proteins. All PHA depolymerases hydrolyzed PHB at high specific activities. PhaZ1 and PhaZ4 additionally cleaved PHV, and PhaZ4 hydrolyzed poly(4-hydroxybutyrate). None of the depolymerases was able to hydrolyze polyactide or PHA consisting of monomers with more than five carbon atoms. While the wild-type depolymerase proteins were glycosylated and found to contain glucose and N-acetylglucosamine, none of the recombinant proteins was glycosylated. PHB hydrolysis was dependent on divalent cations such as Ca2+ and was inhibited by the presence of EDTA.