Azotobacter vinelandii hydrogenase has been purified to homogeneity from membranes. The enzyme was solubilized with Triton X-100 followed by ammonium sulfate-hexane extractions to remove lipids and detergent. The enzyme was then purified by carboxymethyl-Sepharose and octyl-Sepharose column chromatography. All purification steps were performed under anaerobic conditions in the presence of dithionite and dithiothreitol. The enzyme was purified 143-fold from membranes to a specific activity of 124 mumol of H2 uptake . min-1 . mg protein-1. Nondenaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of the hydrogenase revealed a single band which stained for both activity and protein. Sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis revealed two bands corresponding to peptides of 67,000 and 31,000 daltons. Densitometric scans of the SDS-gel indicated a molar ratio of the two bands of 1.07 +/- 0.05. The molecular weight of the native enzyme was determined by three different methods. While gel permeation gave a molecular weight of 53,000, sucrose density gradient centrifugation and native polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis gave molecular weights of 98,600 +/- 10,000 and 98,600 +/- 2,000, respectively. We conclude that the A. vinelandii hydrogenase is an alpha beta dimer (98,000 daltons) with subunits of 67,000 and 31,000 daltons. Analyses for nickel and iron indicated 0.68 +/- 0.01 mol Ni/mol hydrogenase and 6.6 +/- 0.5 mol Fe/mol hydrogenase. The isoelectric point of the enzyme was 6.1 +/- 0.01. In addition, several catalytic properties of the enzyme have been examined. The Km for H2 was 0.86 microM, and H2 evolution was observed in the presence of reduced methyl viologen. The pH profile of enzyme activity with methylene blue as the electron acceptor has been determined, along with the Km and Vmax for various electron acceptors.