Cystathionine γ-synthase (CGS) catalyzes the condensation of O-succinyl-L-homoserine (L-OSHS) and L-cysteine (L-Cys), to produce L-cystathionine (L-Cth) and succinate, in the first step of the bacterial transsulfuration pathway. In the absence of L-Cys, the enzyme catalyzes the futile α,γ-elimination of L-OSHS, yielding succinate, α-ketobutyrate, and ammonia. A series of 16 site-directed variants of Escherichia coli CGS (eCGS) was constructed to probe the roles of active-site residues D45, Y46, R48, R49, Y101, R106, N227, E325, S326, and R361. The effects of these substitutions on the catalytic efficiency of the α,γ-elimination reaction range from a reduction of only ∼2-fold for R49K and the E325A,Q variants to 310- and 760-fold for R361K and R48K, respectively. A similar trend is observed for the kcat/K of the physiological, α,γ-replacement reaction. The results of this study suggest that the arginine residues at positions 48, 106 and 361 of eCGS, conserved in bacterial CGS sequences, tether the distal and α-carboxylate moieties, respectively, of the L-OSHS substrate. In contrast, with the exception of the 13-fold increase observed for R106A, the K is not markedly affected by the site-directed replacement of the residues investigated. The decrease in kcat observed for the S326A variant reflects the role of this residue in tethering the side chain of K198, the catalytic base. Although no structures exist of eCGS bound to active-site ligands, the roles of individual residues is consistent with the structures inhibitor complexes of related enzymes. Substitution of D45, E325, or Y101 enables a minor transamination activity for the substrate L-Ala.