We describe the purification of a H2O-producing NADH oxidase from the protozoan parasite Giardia duodenalis. The enzyme is a monomeric flavoprotein containing flavin adenine dinucleotide in a 1:1 molar ratio with the polypeptide. The NADH oxidase has an apparent molecular mass of 46 kDa and was homogenous as determined by denaturing gel electrophoresis and N-terminal amino acid sequencing. NADPH could substitute for NADH as an electron donor with a K(m) value of 4.2 microM for NADH and 16 microM for NADPH (pH 7.8 at room temperature). With oxygen as the primary electron acceptor under aerobic conditions, the pure enzyme did not produce O.-2 nor H2O2 as stoichiometric products of oxygen reduction, implicating H2O as the end product and obviating the need for superoxide dismutase. The ability to utilise oxygen explains the apparent respiration of the amitochondrial fermentative metabolism of Giardia. Mercurials, flavoantagonists and heavy metals (Cu2+ and Zn2+) inhibited this activity. Under anaerobic conditions the enzyme catalysed electron transfer at lower efficiencies to other electron acceptors including nitroblue tetrazolium, potassium ferricyanide, FAD and FMN, using either NADH or NADPH as electron donors. NADPH, however, was a more efficient electron donor. Cytochrome c was not reduced under any assay conditions used. The enzyme reduced the nitrofuran drugs, furazolidone (an antigiardial) and nitrofurantoin, to their toxic radical forms as determined by EPR. Metronidazole, a nitroimidazole, was not reduced. Pure NADH oxidase did not demonstrate ferredoxin:NAD(P)1 oxidoreductase activity since it could not accept electrons from reduced ferredoxin to regenerate NAD(P)H. The G. duodenalis NADH oxidase may, therefore, function as a terminal oxidase, similar to the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase, and in the maintenance of an optimum intracellular redox ratio. This report of a flavoenzyme from Giardia places Giardia close to the anaerobic bacteria in evolutionary terms.