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The etiology of 3-ketothiolase deficiency has been attributed to a defect of mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase because the acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase activity in related materials is not activated by K+, a property characteristic for this enzyme. We studied the enzyme protein and the biosynthesis of mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase, using cultured skin fibroblasts from a 5-yr-old boy with 3-ketothiolase deficiency. The following results were obtained. (a) Activation of acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase activity by K+ was nil; (b) The enzyme activity was not affected by treatment with the antibody against mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase; (c) A signal for mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase protein was not detected in the immunoblot analysis; and (d) Pulse-chase experiments of skin fibroblasts, using [35S]methionine, revealed no incorporation of radioactivity into this enzyme. Therefore, fibroblasts from this patient lacked mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase protein due to a defect in its biosynthesis.