Carboxylesterases represent a large class of hydrolytic enzymes that are involved in lipid metabolism, pharmacological determination, and detoxication of organophosphorus pesticides. These enzymes have several notable structural features including two intramolecular disulfide bonds. This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that the disulfide bonds are required during catalysis by stabilizing the catalytically active conformation. Hydrolase B, a rat liver microsomal carboxylesterase, was reduced by dithiothreitol, electrophoretically separated and assayed for hydrolysis. Contrary to the hypothesis, reduced hydrolase B was as active as the native enzyme on the hydrolysis of 1-naphthylacetate, and sulfhydryl alkylation following reduction caused no changes in the hydrolytic activity. Interestingly, substitution of a disulfide bond-forming cysteine with an alanine caused marked reduction or complete loss of the catalytic activity, suggesting that disulfide bond formation plays a role in the biosynthetic process of hydrolase B. In support of this notion, refolding experiments restored a significant amount of hydrolytic activity when hydrolase B was unfolded with urea alone. In contrast, little activity was restored when unfolding was performed in the presence of reducing agent dithiothreitol. These results suggest that formation of the disulfide bonds plays a critical role in folding hydrolase B into the catalytically active conformation, and that the disulfide bonds play little role or function redundantly in maintaining this conformation during catalysis.