Cysteine conjugate beta-lyase (beta-lyase) was purified to electrophoretic homogeneity from the kidney cytosol of male Wistar rats. The highly purified enzyme exhibited a monomeric molecular weight of 50,000 Da and was active in the alpha-beta elimination of cysteine conjugates including S-(1,2-dichlorovinyl)-L-cysteine (DCVC), S-(1,1,2,2-tetrafluoroethyl)-L-cysteine (TFEC), and S-(2-benzothiazolyl)-L-cysteine, particularly toward DCVC and TFEC. The purified enzyme also exhibited glutamine transaminase K activity with phenylalanine and alpha-keto-gamma-methiolbutyrate as substrates. An antibody was raised to the purified rat protein in sheep and the crude immune serum affinity purified, yielding a specific antibody that recognized only the beta-lyase protein in whole kidney homogenates. Immunocytochemical studies on rat kidney sections stained with the purified antibody revealed that the cytosolic beta-lyase enzyme was mainly localized in the pars recta of the proximal tubule in untreated rats. This localization is coincident with the site-specific kidney necrosis produced by hexachloro-1,3-butadiene (HCBD). These results indicate that the tissue localization of beta-lyase in the proximal tubule plays an important role in determining the specific nephrotoxicity produced by halogenated alkenes such as HCBD.