A method was developed to prepare peroxisome-enriched fractions depleted of microsomes and mitochondria from cultured skin fibroblasts. The method consists of differential centrifugation of a postnuclear supernatant followed by density gradient centrifugation on a discontinuous Metrizamide gradient. The activity of hexacosanoyl-CoA synthetase was subsequently measured in postnuclear supernatants and peroxisome-enriched fractions prepared from cultured skin fibroblasts from control subjects and patients with X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy. Whereas the hexacosanoyl-CoA synthetase activity in postnuclear supernatants of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy fibroblasts was only slightly decreased (77.8 +/- 4.4% of control (n = 15], enzyme activity was found to be much more markedly reduced in peroxisomal fractions isolated from the mutant fibroblasts (19.6 +/- 6.7% of control (n = 5]. This is a direct demonstration that the defect in X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy is at the level of a deficient ability of peroxisomes to activate very long chain fatty acids, as first suggested by Hashmi et al. [Hashmi, M., Stanley, W. and Singh, I. (1986) FEBS Lett. 86, 247-250].