The backbone dynamics of Fusarium solani pisi cutinase in complex with a phosphonate inhibitor has been studied by a variety of nuclear magnetic resonance experiments to probe internal motions on different time scales. The results have been compared with dynamical studies performed on free cutinase. In solution, the enzyme adopts its active conformation only upon binding the inhibitor. While the active site Ser120 is rigidly attached to the stable a/ß core of the protein, the remainder of the binding site is very flexible in the free enzyme. The other two active site residues Asp175 and His188 as well as the oxyanion hole residues Ser42 and Gln121 are only restrained into their proper positions upon binding of the substrate- like inhibitor. The flap helix, which opens and closes the binding site in the free molecule, is also fixed in the cutinase-inhibitor complex. Our results are in contrast with the X-ray analysis results, namely that in the protein crystal, free cutinase has a well-defined active site and a preformed oxyanion hole and that it does not need any rearrangements to bind its substrate. Our solution studies show that cutinase does need conformational rearrangements to bind its substrate, which may form the rate-limiting step in catalysis.