The effect of stabilizing and destabilizing salts on the catalytic behavior of ribonuclease A (RNase A) was investigated at pH 7.5 and 25 degrees C, using spectrophotometric, viscometric and molecular dynamic methods. The changes in the distance between N(epsilon2) of His(12) and N(delta1) of His(119) at the catalytic center of RNase A upon the addition of sodium sulfate, sodium hydrogen sulfate and sodium thiocyanate were evaluated by molecular dynamic methods. The compactness and expansion in terms of Stokes radius of RNase A upon the addition of sulfate ions as kosmotropic salts, and thiocyanate ion as a chaotropic salt, were estimated by viscometric measurements. Enzyme activity was measured using cytidine 2', 3'-cyclic monophosphate as a substrate. The results from the measurements of distances between N(epsilon2) of His(12) and N(delta1) of His(119) and Stokes radius suggest (i) that the presence of sulfate ions decreases the distance between the catalytic His residues and increases the globular compactness, and (ii) that there is an expansion of the enzyme surface as well as elongation of the catalytic center in the presence of thiocyanate ion. These findings are in agreement with activity measurements.