The kinetic properties of highly purified human placental cytoplasmic 5'-nucleotidase were investigated. Initial velocity studies gave Michaelis constants for AMP, IMP, and CMP of 18, 30, and 2.2 microM, respectively. The enzyme shows the following relative Vmax values: CMP greater than UMP greater than dUMP greater than GMP greater than AMP greater than dCMP greater than IMP. The activity was magnesium-dependent, and this cation binds sequentially with a Km of 14 microM for AMP and an apparent Km of 6 mM for magnesium. A large variety of purine, pyrimidine, and pyridine compounds exert an inhibitory effect on enzyme activity. IMP, GMP, and NADH produce almost 100% inhibition at 1.0 mM. Nucleoside di- and triphosphates are potent inhibitors. ATP and ADP are competitive inhibitors with respect to AMP and IMP as substrates with Ki values of 100 and 15 microM, respectively. Inorganic phosphate is a noncompetitive inhibitor with Ki values of 19 and 43 mM. Nucleosides and other compounds studied produce only a modest decrease of enzyme activity at 1 mM. Our findings suggest that the enzyme is regulated under physiological conditions by the concentrations of magnesium, nucleoside 5'-monophosphates, and nucleoside di- and triphosphates. The nucleotide pool concentration regulates the enzyme possibly by a mechanism of heterogeneous metabolic pool inhibition. These properties of human placental cytoplasmic 5'-nucleotidase may be related to the control of nucleotide degradation in vivo.