Each of the five histidines in Escherichia coli inorganic pyrophosphatase (PPase) was replaced in turn by glutamine. Significant changes in protein structure and activity were observed in the H136Q and H140Q variants only. In contrast to wild-type PPase, which is hexameric, these variants can be dissociated into trimers by dilution, as shown by analytical ultracentrifugation and cross-linking. Mg2+ and substrate stabilize the hexameric forms of both variants. The hexameric H136Q- and H140Q-PPases have the same binding affinities for magnesium ion as wild-type, but their hydrolytic activities under optimal conditions are, respectively, 225 and 110% of wild-type PPase, and their synthetic activities, 340 and 140%. The increased activity of hexameric H136Q-PPase results from an increase in the rate constants governing most of the catalytic steps in both directions. Dissociation of the hexameric H136Q and H140Q variants into trimers does not affect the catalytic constants for PPi hydrolysis between pH 6 and 9 but drastically decreases their affinities for Mg2PPi and Mg2+. These results prove that His-136 and His-140 are key residues in the dimer interface and show that hexamer formation improves the substrate binding characteristics of the active site.