Preparations of pyruvate carboxylase catalyse the cleavage of MgATP in the absence of pyruvate and acetyl-CoA. The rate of this cleavage is higher in the presence of HCO3- than in its absence. Incubation of the enzyme preparations with an excess of the pyruvate carboxylase inhibitor, avidin, completely abolishes the pyruvate carboxylating activity of the enzyme preparations but only abolishes the HCO3(-)-dependent MgATP cleaving activity, with no effect on the HCO3(-)-independent ATPase activity. The HCO3(-)-dependent MgATP cleavage is also sensitive to inhibition by a pyruvate carboxylase inhibitor, oxamate, and the dependence of the reaction on the free Mg2+ concentration is similar to that of the pyruvate-carboxylation reaction, whereas the HCO3(-)-independent MgATP cleavage is not dependent on the concentration of free Mg2+ in the range tested. This indicates that MgATP cleavage by pyruvate carboxylase is entirely dependent on the presence of HCO3- and that there may be a low level of ATPase contamination in the enzyme preparations. In addition, inhibition of the HCO3(-)-dependent MgATP cleavage by both avidin and oxamate indicate that although biotin does not directly participate in the reaction, its presence is required in that part of the active site of the enzyme. The rate of HCO3(-)-dependent MgATP cleavage is about 0.07% of that of the full pyruvate carboxylation reaction under similar conditions with saturating substrates. The reaction mechanism is sequential with respect to MgATP and HCO3- addition and Mg2+ adds at equilibrium before MgATP. Acetyl-CoA stimulates the HCO3(-)-dependent MgATP cleavage at low MgATP concentrations, with the stimulation being greater at low Mg2+ concentrations. At high levels of MgATP in the presence of acetyl-CoA, substrate inhibition is evident and is more pronounced at increasing concentrations of Mg2+. This inhibition appears to be, at least in part, caused by inhibition of decarboxylation of the enzyme-carboxybiotin complex by the binding to this complex of Mg2+ and MgATP, which probably act to reduce the rate of movement of carboxybiotin from the site of the MgATP cleavage reaction to that of the pyruvate carboxylation reaction where it is unstable and decarboxylates.