Alcaligenes sp. strain O-1 utilizes three sulphonated aromatic compounds as sole sources of carbon and energy for growth in minimal salts medium-benzenesulphonate (BS), 4-toluenesulphonate (TS) and 2-aminobenzenesulphonate (2AS). The degradative pathway(s) in 2AS-grown cells are initiated with membrane transport, NADH-dependent dioxygenation and meta ring cleavage. The specific activity of the NADH-dependent dioxygenation(s) varied with the growth phase and was maximal near the end of exponential growth for each growth substrate. Cells were harvested at this point from BS-, TS- and 2AS-salts medium. Cells grown with each sulphonated substrate could oxygenate all three compounds, but only 2AS-grown cells consumed 2 mol O2 per mol 2AS or BS or TS. BS- and TS-grown cells consumed 2 mol O2 per mol BS or TS but failed to oxygenate the product of oxygenation of 2AS, 3-sulphocatechol (3SC). These observations were repeated with cell extracts and we concluded that there were two sets of desulphonative pathways in the organism, one for 2AS and one for BS and TS. We confirmed this hypothesis by separating the degradative enzymes from 2AS-, BS- or TS-grown cells. A 2AS dioxygenase system and a 3SC-2,3-dioxygenase (3SC23O) were detected in 2AS-grown cells only. In both BS- and TS-grown cells a dioxygenase system for BS and TS was observed as well as a principal catechol 2,3-dioxygenase (C23O-III), neither of which was present in 2AS-grown cells. The 3SC23O was purified to near homogeneity, found to be monomeric (M(r) 42,000), and to catalyse 2,3-dioxygenation to a product that decayed spontaneously to sulphite and 2-hydroxymuconate. The 2AS dioxygenase system could cause not only deamination of 2AS but also desulphonation of BS and TS. The BS dioxygenase could desulphonate BS and apparently either desulphonate or deaminate 2AS. Strain O-1 thus seems to contain two putative, independently regulated operons involving oxygenation and spontaneous desulphonation(s). One operon encodes at least the 2AS dioxygenase system and 3SC23O whereas the other encodes at least the BS/TS dioxygenase system and C23O-III.