1. Benzofuroxan (benzofurazan 1-oxide, benzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazole N-oxide) was evaluated as a specific chromophoric oxidizing agent for thiol groups. 2. Aliphatic thiol groups both in low-molecular-weight molecules and in the enzymes papain (EC 3.4.22.2), ficin (EC 3.4.22.3) and bromelain (EC 3.4.22.4) readily reduce benzofuroxan to o-benzoquinone dixime; potential competing reactions of amino groups are negligibly slow. 3. The fate of the thiol depends on its structure: a mechanism is proposed in which the thiol and benzofuroxan form an adduct which, if steric factors permit, reacts with another molecule of thiol to form a disulphide; when the thiol is located in the active site of a thiol proteinase and steric factors preclude enzyme dinner formation, the adduct reacts instead with water or HO- to form a sulphenic acid; attack on the sulphur atom of the adduct by either a sulphur or oxygen nucleophile releases o-benzoquinone dioxine. 4. Benzofuroxan contains n o proton-binding sites with pKa values in the range 3-10 and probably none in the range 0-14; o-benzoquinone dioxine undergoes a one-proton ionization with pKa=6.75.5. o-benzoquinone dioxime absorbs strongly at wavelengths greater than 410nm, where absorption by benzofuroxan, proteins and simple thiol compounds is negligible; 416 nm is an isosbestic point (epsilon 416 = 5110 litre. mol-1-cm-1); epsilon430=3740+[1460/(1+[H+]/Ka)] where pKa=6.75. 6. The possibility of acid-base catalysis of the oxidation by active-centre histidine residues of the thiol proteinases is discussed.

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