Xanthine oxidase is a commercially-important enzyme. Several biochemical compounds have been quantitated by xanthine oxidase. Xanthine oxidase has been used as an auxiliary enzyme in the staining of several enzymes or tissues, however, there is no direct staining method available for it, on polyacrylamide gels. Partially-purified xanthine oxidase from cow milk was used as the enzyme source for the development of an activity-staining method on polyacrylamide gels. Staining was very sensitive. Detection of 0.02 mu U of the enzyme on polyacrylamide gels was possible. Staining of 0.05 mu U takes about 1 min whereas staining of 0.5 mu U will take less than 5 s. Addition of TEMED is not essential for activity staining but it did increase both the rate and the intensity of the staining. The stained gels must be washed with distilled water, extensively, in order to remove excess unoxidized nitroblue tetrazolium, and must be protected from light, for a clear background and sharp activity-band staining. This method might be useful for quality control of xanthine oxidase obtained from different sources. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.