Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) [OMIM 201910] is a group of autosomal recessive disorders, caused in 90-95% of cases by a deficiency of steroid 21-hydroxylase due to mutations in the CYP21A2 gene. The functional and structural effects of a novel rare missense mutation (E351K) in CYP21A2 found in a male patient with simple virilizing CAH were studied. The novel E351K point mutation is located in the ERR triad of the 21-hydroxylase. The ERR triad is a glutamine-arginine-arginine motif conserved in all cytochrome P450 sequences. The glutamate and first arginine residue are invariant in all P450 cytochrome enzymes, whereas the second arginine residue is present as arginine, histidine, or asparagine. Although the ERR triad is involved in some way to heme binding by the cytochrome P450 monooxygenases, the E351K mutation leads to severe but not complete loss of CYP21 enzyme activity. The functional analysis in COS-7 cells revealed a reduced conversion of 17-hydroxyprogesterone to 11-deoxycortisol of 1.1+/-0.5% (SD) and of progesterone to 11-deoxycorticosterone of 1.2+/-0.3% of wild-type activity. Analyzing the artificial mutants (E351D, E351I) of the E351 residue did not show a restoration of the in vitro 21-hydroxylase activity. These effects could be readily explained by structural changes induced by the mutations, which were rationalized by a three-dimensional-model structure of the CYP21 protein. The combination of in vitro enzyme function and computerized protein analysis of the E351 residue of the CYP21 protein provides experimental evidence for the ERR triad being a fundamental structural element of cytochrome P450 enzymes.