An assay for human plasma xanthine oxidase activity was developed with pterin as the substrate and the separation of product (isoxanthopterin) by high-performance liquid chromatography with a fluorescence detector. The reaction mixture consists of 60 microliters of plasma and 240 microliters of 0.2 M Tris-HCl buffer (pH 9.0) containing 113 microM pterin. With this assay, the activity of plasma xanthine oxidase could be easily determined despite its low activity. As a result, it could be demonstrated that the intravenous administration of heparin or the oral administration of ethanol did not increase plasma xanthine oxidase activity in normal subjects, and also that plasma xanthine oxidase activity was higher in patients with hepatitis C virus infection than in healthy subjects or patients with gout. In addition, a single patient with von Gierke's disease showed a marked increase in the plasma activity of this enzyme, relative to that apparent in normal subjects.