It has been reported that monoamine oxidase (MAO) activity (EC188.8.131.52) and, in general, enzymes possessing cationic substrates, were activated and inhibited by anionic and cationic detergents, respectively. In order to examine this hypothesis, the effect of the zwitterionic detergent CHAPS 3-[(3-cholamido propyl) dimethyl ammonio]-l-propanesulphonate was studied in comparison with the effects of cationic, anionic, and non-ionic detergents. The non-denaturating zwitterionic detergent CHAPS was used to solubilise rat liver monoamine oxidase MAO (EC184.108.40.206) of mitochondrial and microsomal origin; the solubilisation conditions, purification, inhibition and kinetic studies were then determined. These results are compared with those previously obtained with the non-ionic detergent Triton X-100, which would also be expected to have no net charge, and are interpreted in terms of specific ionic effects. © 1987.