Proline-containing peptides of the X-proline type are cleaved by the dipeptidase prolidase. The classical method of prolidase assay relied on the colorimetric estimation of the liberated proline with ninhydrin using acidic media and heat. This method, however, gave inconsistent results due to the nonspecificity of the ninhydrin color reaction. We report here a method for the detection of the liberated proline using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF) mass spectrometry. Human sera were incubated with a mixture containing the dipeptide glycyl-proline in Tris-HCl supplemented with manganese at 37 degrees C for 24h. The samples were precipitated with trifluoroacetic acid and centrifuged. An aliquot of the supernatant was mixed with an equal volume of ferulic acid solution. An aliquot from this mixture was spotted on a stainless steel mass spectrometry grid and analyzed using MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry. The activity of the enzyme was determined by the complete disappearance of the glycyl-proline peak with the concomitant appearance of the proline peak and can be expressed in terms of the ratio of the area beneath the proline to the area beneath the glycyl-proline peak. Subjects homozygous for prolidase deficiency had a ratio ranging from 0.006 to 0.04 while obligatory heterozygotes had a ratio ranging from around 1.1 to 2.4. Normal subjects had ratios ranging from 9 to 239. Using this method we have unambiguously identified subjects with homozygous or heterozygous prolidase deficiency. In addition to the advantage of rapid sample preparation time, this method is highly specific, reproducible, and sensitive.