The enzyme D-glycerate dehydrogenase (D-GDH; EC 126.96.36.199), which is also believed to have glyoxylate reductase (GR; EC 188.8.131.52/79) activity, plays a role in serine catabolism and glyoxylate metabolism and deficiency of this enzyme is believed to be the cause of primary hyperoxaluria type 2 (PH2). The pH optima and kinetic parameters of D-GDH and GR in human liver have been determined and assays developed for their measurement. Maximal activities were observed at pH 6.0, 8.0 and 7.6 for the D-GDH forward, D-GDH reverse and GR reactions, respectively. The apparent Km values for the substrates in these reactions were as follows: D-GDH forward reaction, 0.5 mmol/L hydroxypyruvate and 0.08 mmol/L NADPH; D-GDH reverse reaction, 20 mmol/L D-glycerate and 0.03 mmol/L NADP and for the GR reaction 1.25 mmol/L glyoxylate and 0.33 mmol/L NADPH. The forward D-GDH and GR assays were adopted for routine use, the low activity of the reverse D-GDH reaction being of little use for routine analyses. D-GDH and GR activity in 13 normal livers ranged from 350-940 nmol per min per mg protein (median 547) and 129-209 nmol per min per mg protein (median 145), respectively. D-GDH activity in kidney, lymphocytes and fibroblasts fell within the range of values seen in the liver but GR activity was approximately 30% in the kidney and barely detectable in lymphocytes and fibroblasts. Analysis of liver and lymphocyte samples from patients with PH2 showed that GR activity was either very low or undetectable while D-GDH activity was reduced in liver but within the normal range in lymphocytes. These results suggest that there is more than one enzyme with D-GDH activity in human tissues but only one of these has significant GR activity. We conclude that a definitive diagnosis of PH2 requires measurement of GR and D-GDH in a liver biopsy.