Thiol methyltransferase (EC 220.127.116.11, TMT) activity was measured with 2-mercaptoethanol in the microsomal fraction of 12 placenta and 31 fetal and 33 adult liver specimens. TMT activity (nmol/min incubation/mg protein; mean +/- SD) was 0.61 +/- 0.25 (placenta), 0.74 +/- 0.45 (fetal liver), and 4.51 +/- 2.29 (adult liver). TMT activity was also measured in extrahepatic tissues and it was about one order of magnitude lower in fetal lungs, kidney and intestine as compared with the fetal liver. A similar distribution pattern was also observed in adult tissues except that in the kidney TMT activity was one third of the hepatic one. Studies of enzyme kinetics showed that fetal and adult hepatic TMT obeyed non-Michaelis-Menten kinetics when 2-mercaptoethanol was the varying substrate. Average values of Km for the higher and lower affinity phases were 0.03 and 14.05 mmol/l, respectively (fetal liver) and 0.005 and 14.57 mmol/l, respectively (adult liver). This paper shows that TMT develops prenatally and its distribution pattern is consistent with that of other microsomal enzymes, being preferentially associated with the liver both in the human fetus and in adult subject.