Arginine is an important metabolite in the normal function of several biological systems, and arginine deprivation has been investigated in animal models and human clinical trials for its effects on inhibition of tumor growth, angiogenesis, or nitric oxide synthesis. In order to design an optimal arginine-catabolizing enzyme bioconjugate, a novel recombinant arginine deiminase (ADI) from Mycoplasma arthritidis was prepared, and multi-PEGylated derivatives were examined for enzymatic and biochemical properties in vitro, as well as pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic behavior in rats and mice. ADI bioconjugates constructed with 12 kDa or 20 kDa monomethoxy-poly(ethylene glycol) polymers with linear succinimidyl carbonate linkers were investigated via intravenous, intramuscular, or subcutaneous administration in rodents. The selected PEG-ADI compounds have 22 +/- 2 PEG strands per protein dimer, providing an additional molecular mass of about 0.2-0.5 x 10(6) Da and prolonging the plasma mean residence time of the enzyme over 30-fold in mice. Prolonged plasma arginine deprivation was demonstrated with each injection route for these bioconjugates. Pharmacokinetic analysis employed parallel measurement of enzyme activity in bioassays and enzyme assays and demonstrated a correlation with the pharmacodynamic analysis of plasma arginine concentrations. Either ADI bioconjugate depressed plasma arginine to undetectable levels for 10 days when administered intravenously at 5 IU per mouse, while the subcutaneous and intramuscular routes exhibited only slightly reduced potency. Both bioconjugates exhibited potent growth inhibition of several cultured tumor lines that are deficient in the anabolic enzyme, argininosuccinate synthetase. Investigations of structure-activity optimization for PEGylated ADI compounds revealed a benefit to constraining the PEG size and number of attachments to both conserve catabolic activity and streamline manufacturing of the experimental therapeutics. Specifically, ADI with either 12 kDa or 20 kDa PEG attachments on 33% of the primary amines retained about 60% or 48% of enzyme activity, respectively; the Km and pH profiles were nearly unchanged; IC50 values were diminished by less than 30%; while stability studies demonstrated full retention of activity at 4 degrees C for 5 months. A comparison of the enzymatic properties of a second ADI from Pseudomonas putida illustrated the superior characteristics of the M. arthritidis ADI enzyme.