Adenylate deaminase (EC 188.8.131.52) may help to regulate the adenine nucleotide catabolism characteristic of such disease states as myocardial ischaemia. We report analysis of the molecular, kinetic and allosteric properties of rabbit heart adenylate deaminase when extracted and purified under phosphate-free conditions (i.e., with Hepes/KOH). The enzyme's subunit molecular mass (approximately 81 kDa), pI (6.5), substrate specificity for 5'-AMP, and activation by K+ were identical in the absence or presence of phosphate. At each chromatographic step during isolation without phosphate, cardiac adenylate deaminase showed a lower apparent activity as compared with the enzyme prepared with phosphate present. Kinetic constants for the phosphate-free rabbit heart adenylate deaminase preparation (Km 0.54 mM AMP; Vmax. 1.4 mumol/min per mg of protein) were approximately 10-fold lower than those of the enzyme isolated with phosphate. The same irreversible decrease in kinetic constants could be achieved by dialysing phosphate from the phosphate-containing enzyme preparation. The relationship between enzyme activity and substrate concentration was sigmoidal in the presence of phosphate, but hyperbolic in its absence. Cardiac adenylate deaminase under phosphate-free conditions was no longer allosterically activated by ATP and ADP, yet remained inhibitable by GTP. Enzyme inhibition by the transition-state mimic coformycin was not influenced by phosphate status. The phosphate-free preparation of rabbit heart adenylate deaminase was markedly labile and extremely susceptible to proteolysis by trypsin or chymotrypsin. The inactivation kinetics and fragmentation pattern in response to controlled proteolysis depended on whether the enzyme had been isolated with or without phosphate present, suggesting a conformational difference between the two enzyme preparations. These data constitute direct evidence that the absence of phosphate irreversibly converts cardiac adenylate deaminase into a pseudo-isoenzyme with distinct kinetic, regulatory and stability properties.