Aldehyde oxidase (AO) is a molybdo-flavo enzyme expressed predominantly in the liver, lung, and kidney. AO plays a major role in oxidation of aldehydes, as well as oxidation of various N-heterocyclic compounds of pharmacological and toxicological importance including antiviral (famciclovir), antimalarial (quinine), antitumour (methotrexate), and nicotine. The aim of this study was to investigate cytosolic aldehyde oxidase activity in human liver. Cytosolic AO was characterised using both the metabolism of N-[(2-dimethylamino)ethyl] acridine-4-carboxamide (DACA) and benzaldehyde to form DACA-9(10H)-acridone (quantified by HPLC with fluorescence detection) and benzoic acid (quantified spectrophotometrically). Thirteen livers (10 female, 3 male) were examined. The intrinsic clearance (Vmax/Km) of DACA varied 18-fold (0.03-0.50 m/min/mg). Vmax ranged from 0.20-3.10 nmol/ min/mg, and Km ranged from 3.5-14.2 microM. In the same specimens, the intrinsic clearance for benzaldehyde varied 5-fold (0.40-1.8 ml/min/mg). Vmax ranged from 3.60-12.6 nmol/min/mg and Km ranged from 3.6-14.6 microM. Furthermore, there were no differences in AO activity between male and female human livers, nor was there any relationship to age of donor (range 29-73 years), smoking status, or disease status. In conclusion, our results showed that there are variations in AO activity in human liver. These variations in aldehyde oxidase activity might reflect individual variations or they might be due to AO stability during processing and storage.