Activation of ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (rubisco) in vivo is mediated by a specific protein, rubisco activase. In vitro, activation of rubisco by rubisco activase is dependent on ATP and is inhibited by ADP. Purified rubisco activase hydrolyzed ATP with a specific activity of 1.5 mumol min-1 mg-1 protein, releasing approximately stoichiometric amounts of ADP and Pi. Hydrolysis was highly specific for ATP-Mg and had a broad pH optimum, with maximum activity at pH 8.0-8.5. ATPase activity was inhibited by ADP but not by molybdate, vanadate, azide, nitrate, or fluoride. Addition of rubisco in either the inactive or activated form had no significant effect on ATPase activity. Incubation of rubisco activase in the absence of ATP resulted in loss of both ATPase and rubisco activation activities. Both activities were also heat labile, with 50% loss in activity after 5 min at 38 degrees C and complete inhibition following treatment at 43 degrees C. Both activities showed a sigmoidal response to ATP concentration, with half-maximal activity at 0.053 mM ATP. Rubisco activation activity was dependent on the concentrations of both ATP and ADP. The results suggest that ATPase activity is an intrinsic property of rubisco activase.