Intragenic complementation has been observed at the argininosuccinate lyase (ASL) locus and the ASL alleles in the ASL-deficient cell strains of two complementation phenotypes have been identified. The frequent complementers, strains that participate in the majority of the complementation events, were found to be either homozygous or heterozygous for the Q286R allele, while the high-activity complementers, those strains in which complementation is associated with a high restoration of activity, were found to be either homozygous or heterozygous for the D87G allele. Direct proof of the intragenic complementation observed at the ASL locus has been obtained with the co-expression of the D87G and Q286R alleles in COS cells. A significant increase in the ASL activity was observed when the two alleles were co-expressed relative to the expression of each mutant allele alone. The increase in activity was comparable to that observed previously in the fibroblast complementation studies. The structure determinations of ASL and the homologous eye lens protein, duck delta II crystallin, have revealed that the active site of ASL is made up of residues from three different monomers. The structural mapping of the Q286 and D87 residues shows that both are located near the active site but that, in any one active site, each is contributed by a different monomer. The molecular symmetry of the ASL protein is such that when mutant monomers combine randomly, one active site will contain both mutations and at least one active site will contain no mutations at all. It is these 'native' active sites in the hybrid Q286R/D87G proteins that give rise to the partial recovery of enzymatic activity observed during intragenic complementation.