Several models have been proposed to explain the high temperatures required to denature enzymes from thermophilic organisms; some involve greater maximum thermodynamic stability for the thermophile, and others do not. To test these models, we reversibly melted two analogous protein domains in a two-state manner. E2cd is the isolated catalytic domain of cellulase E2 from the thermophile Thermomonospora fusca. CenAP30 is the analogous domain of the cellulase CenA from the mesophile Cellulomonas fimi. When reversibly denatured in a common buffer, the thermophilic enzyme E2cd had a temperature of melting (Tm) of 72.2 degrees C, a van't Hoff enthalpy of unfolding (DeltaHVH) of 190 kcal/mol, and an entropy of unfolding (DeltaSu) of 0.55 kcal/(mol*K); the mesophilic enzyme CenAP30 had a Tm of 56.4 degrees C, a DeltaHVH of 107 kcal/mol, and a DeltaSu of 0. 32 kcal/(mol*K). The higher DeltaHVH and DeltaSu values for E2cd suggest that its free energy of unfolding (DeltaGu) has a steeper dependence on temperature at the Tm than CenAP30. This result supports models that predict a greater maximum thermodynamic stability for thermophilic enzymes than for their mesophilic counterparts. This was further explored by urea denaturation. Under reducing conditions at 30 degrees C, E2cd had a concentration of melting (Cm) of 5.2 M and a DeltaGu of 11.2 kcal/mol; CenAP30 had a Cm of 2.6 M and a DeltaGu of 4.3 kcal/mol. Under nonreducing conditions, the Cm and DeltaGu of CenAP30 were increased to 4.5 M and 10.8 kcal/mol at 30 degrees C; the Cm for E2cd was increased to at least 7.4 M at 32 degrees C. We were unable to determine a DeltaGu value for E2cd under nonreducing conditions due to problems with reversibility. These data suggest that E2cd attains its greater thermal stability (DeltaTm = 15.8 degrees C) through a greater thermodynamic stability (DeltaDeltaGu = 6.9 kcal/mol) compared to its mesophilic analogue CenAP30.