A remarkable correlation has been discovered between fluorescence lifetimes of bound NADPH and rates of hydride transfer among mutants of dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) from Escherichia coli. Rates of hydride transfer from NADPH to dihydrofolate change by a factor of 1,000 for the series of mutant enzymes. Since binding constants for the initial complex between coenzyme and DHFR change by only a factor of 10, the major portion of the change in hydride transfer must be attributed to losses in transition-state stabilization. The time course of fluorescence decay for NADPH bound to DHFR is biphasic. Lifetimes ranging from 0.3 to 0.5 ns are attributed to a solvent-exposed dihydronicotinamide conformation of bound coenzyme which is presumably not active in catalysis, while decay times (tau 2) in the range of 1.3 to 2.3 ns are assigned to a more tightly bound species of NADPH in which dihydronicotinamide is sequestered from solvent. It is this slower component that is of interest. Ternary complexes with three different inhibitors, methotrexate, 5-deazafolate, and trimethoprim, were investigated, along with the holoenzyme complex; 3-acetylNADPH was also investigated. Fluorescence polarization decay, excitation polarization spectra, the temperature variation of fluorescence lifetimes, fluorescence amplitudes, and wavelength of absorbance maxima were measured. We suggest that dynamic quenching or internal conversion promotes decay of the excited state in NADPH-DHFR. When rates of hydride transfer are plotted against the fluorescence lifetime (tau 2) of tightly bound NADPH, an unusual correlation is observed. The fluorescence lifetime becomes longer as the rate of catalysis decreases for most mutants studied. However, the fluorescence lifetime is unchanged for those mutations that principally alter the binding of dihydrofolate while leaving most dihydronicotinamide interactions relatively undisturbed. The data are interpreted in terms of possible dynamic motions of a flexible loop region in DHFR which closes over both substrate and coenzyme binding sites. These motions could lead to faster rates of fluorescence decay in holoenzyme complexes and, when correlated over time, may be involved in other motions which give rise to enhanced rates of catalysis in DHFR.