In Escherichia coli the sulfur-containing amino acid homocysteine (Hcy) is the last intermediate on the methionine hiosynthetic pathway. Supplementation of a glucose-based minimal medium with Hcy at concentrations greater than 0.2 mM causes the growth of E. coli Frag1 to be inhibited. Supplementation of Hcy-treated cultures with combinations of branched-chain amino acids containing isoleucine or with isoleucine alone reversed the inhibitory effects of Hcy on growth. The last intermediate of the isoleucine biosynthetic pathway, a-keto-p-methylvalerate, could also alleviate the growth inhibition caused by Hcy. Analysis of amino acid pools in Hcy-treated cells revealed that alanine, valine, and glutamate levels are depleted. Isoleucine could reverse the effects of Hcy on the cytoplasmic pools of valine and alanine. Supplementation of the culture medium with alanine gave partial relief from the inhibitory effects of Hcy. Enzyme assays revealed that the first step of the isoleucine biosynthetic pathway, catalyzed by threonine deaminase, was sensitive to inhibition by Hcy. The gene encoding threonine deaminase, ilvA, was found to be transcribed at higher levels in the presence of Hcy. Overexpression of the ilvA gene from a plasmid could overcome Hcy-mediated growth inhibition. Together, these data indicate that in E. coli Hcy toxicity is caused by a perturbation of branched-chain amino acid biosynthesis that is caused, at least in part, by the inhibition of threonine deaminase.