The homolytic cleavage of the organometallic Co-C bond in vitamin B-12-dependent enzymes is accelerated by a factor of similar to 10(12) in the protein compared to that of the isolated cofactor in aqueous solution. To understand this much debated effect, we have studied the Co-C bond cleavage in the enzyme glutamate mutase with combined quantum and molecular mechanics methods. We show that the calculated bond dissociation energy (BDE) of the Co-C bond in adenosyl cobalamin is reduced by 135 kJ/mol in the enzyme. This catalytic effect can be divided into four terms. First, the adenosine radical is kept within 4.2 angstrom of the Cc ion in the enzyme, which decreases the BDE by 20 kJ/mol. Second, the surrounding enzyme stabilizes the dissociated state by 42 kJ/mol using electrostatic and van der Waals interactions. Third, the protein itself is stabilized by 11 kJ/mol in the dissociated state. Finally, the coenzyme is geometrically distorted by the protein, and this distortion is 61 kJ/mol larger in the Co-III state. This deformation of the coenzyme is caused mainly by steric interactions, and it is especially the ribose moiety and the Co-C5'-C4' angle that are distorted. Without the polar ribose group, the catalytic effect is much smaller, e.g. only 42 kJ/mol for methyl cobalamin. The deformation of the coenzyme is caused mainly by the substrate, a side chain of the coenzyme itself, and a few residues around the adenosine part of the coenzyme.