Native poly(hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) granules, purified PHB and artificial amorphous PHB granules were examined as putative substrates for hydrolysis by the intracellular depolymerase system of Rhodospirillum rubrum and the extracellular depolymerase of Pseudomonas lemoignei. The R. rubrum depolymerizing system requires pretreatment of granules with a heat stable 'activator' fraction; the activator can be replaced by mild trypsin treatment. Artificial granules were prepared with a cationic detergent, cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) and an anionic detergent, (sodium cholate). Cholate and CTAB PHB granules were hydrolyzed by both enzyme systems; however, some differences were noted. Cholate granules were hydrolyzed in the absence of the R. rubrum activator fraction. Activator was required for the hydrolysis of CTAB granules but could be replaced by heparin in the extracellular depolymerase system but not in the intracellular depolymerase system. A Triton X-114 extract of native PHB granules inhibited the hydrolysis of trypsin-activated granules by the intracellular depolymerase. The inhibition was reversed by the activator fraction. Detergent extracts of granules activated with the R. rubrum activator were unable to inhibit the hydrolysis of trypsin-activated granules. These data suggest that the activator acts to modify an inhibitor present on native granules.