1. A method is described for following continuously the action of beta-galactosidase on 4-methylumbelliferyl beta-D-galactoside at pH 4.5, in which 4-methylumbelliferone production is measured at fluorescence excitation and emission wavelengths of 324 and 444nm respectively. 2. Initial-rate studies show that the presence of salt activates beta-galactosidase up to 100 mM, but is inhibitory above that concentration. The enzyme is very unstable at 37 degrees C and low ionic strength, but stability increases with ionic strength. 3. The stability of the enzyme at 37 degrees C decreases markedly with rising pH in the range 5.9–8.0. 4. Gel-filtration patterns demonstrate that there is a marked tendency to polymerization with increasing ionic strength. The gel-filtration pattern shows decreasing amounts of dimer with increasing pH. 5. The correlation between activity, stability and molecular form of beta-galactosidase is discussed. It is suggested that the dimeric form of the enzyme is the most stable and active form. The implications of this finding for the assay of beta-galactosidase under physiological conditions for prenatal diagnosis are discussed. 6. Evidence for the possible occurrence of a 36 000-mol.wt. from of beta-galactosidase is presented. 7. A computer program for the calculation of initial rates has been deposited as Supplementary Publication SUP 50114 (4 pages) at the British Library Lending Division, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire LS23 7BQ, U.K., from whom copies can be obtained on the terms indicated in Biochem. J. (1981) 193, 5.

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