The FAD-dependent choline oxidase catalyzes the four-electron oxidation of choline to glycine-betaine, with betaine-aldehyde as intermediate. The enzyme is capable of accepting either choline or betaine-aldehyde as a substrate, allowing the investigation of the reaction mechanism for both the conversion of choline to betaine-aldehyde and of betaine-aldehyde to glycine-betaine. In the present study, pH and deuterium kinetic isotope effects with [1,2-2H(4)]-choline were used to study the mechanism of oxidation of choline to betaine-aldehyde. The V/K and V(max) pH-profiles increased to limiting values with increasing pH, suggesting the presence of a catalytic base essential for catalysis at the enzyme active site. From the V/K pH-profile with [1,2-2H(4)]-choline, a pK(a) of 8.0 was determined for the catalytic base. This pK(a) was shifted to 7.5 in the V/K pH-profile with choline, indicating a significant commitment to catalysis with this substrate. In agreement with this conclusion, the D(V/K) values decreased from a limiting value of 12.4 below pH 6.5 to a limiting value of 4.1 above pH 9.5. The large D(V/K) values at low pH are consistent with carbon-hydrogen bond cleavage of choline being nearly irreversible and fully rate-limiting at low pH. Based on comparison of amino acid sequences and previous structural and mechanistic studies on other members of the GMC oxidoreductase superfamily, the identity of the catalytic base of choline oxidase is proposed.