Thermococcus litoralis is a strictly anaerobic archaeon (archaebacterium) that grows at temperatures up to 98 degrees C by fermenting peptides. It is known to contain three distinct ferredoxin-dependent, 2-keto acid oxidoreductases, which use pyruvate, aromatic 2-keto acids such as indolepyruvate, or branched-chain 2-keto acids such as 2-ketoisovalerate, as their primary substrates. We show here that T. litoralis also contains a fourth member of this family of enzymes, 2-ketoglutarate ferredoxin oxidoreductase (KGOR). In the presence of coenzyme A, KGOR catalyzes the oxidative decarboxylation of 2-ketoglutarate to succinyl coenzyme A and CO2 and reduces T. litoralis ferredoxin. The enzyme was oxygen sensitive (half-life of approximately 5 min) and was purified under anaerobic conditions. It had an M(r) of approximately 210,000 and appeared to be an octomeric enzyme (alpha2beta2gamma2delta2) with four different subunits with M(r)s of 43,000 (alpha), 29,000 (beta), 23,000 (gamma), and 10,000 (delta). The enzyme contained 0.9 mol of thiamine PPi and at least four [4Fe-4S] clusters per mol of holoenzyme as determined by metal analyses and electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy. Significant amounts of other metals (Cu, Zn, Mo, W, and Ni) were not present (<0.1 mol/mol of holoenzyme). Pure KGOR did not utilize other 2-keto acids, such as pyruvate, indolepyruvate, or 2-ketoisovalerate, as substrates, and the apparent Km values for 2-ketoglutarate, coenzyme A, T. litoralis ferredoxin, and thiamine PPi were approximately 250, 40, 8, and 9 microM, respectively. The enzyme was virtually inactive at 25 degrees C and exhibited optimal activity above 90 degrees C (at pH 8.0) and at pH 8.0 (at 80 degrees C). KGOR was quite thermostable, with a half-life at 80 degrees C (under anaerobic conditions) of about 2 days. An enzyme analogous to KGOR has been previously purified from a mesophilic archaeon, but the molecular properties of T. litoralis KGOR more closely resemble those of the other oxidoreductases from hyperthermophiles. In contrast to these enzymes, however, KGOR appears to have a biosynthetic function rather than a role in energy conservation.