The steady-state kinetics of the butyrylcholinesterase-catalysed hydrolysis of butyrylthiocholine and thiophenyl acetate were shown to deviate from Michaelis-Menten kinetics. The ;best' empirical rate law was selected by fitting different rate equations to the experimental data by non-linear regression methods. The results were analysed in view of two alternative interpretations: (1) the reaction is catalysed by a mixture of enzymes, or (2) the activity is due to a single enzyme displaying deviations from Michaelis-Menten kinetics. It was concluded that the second alternative applies, and this conclusion was further supported by experiments involving simultaneous hydrolysis of alternative thiol ester substrates (butyrylthiocholine/thiophenyl acetate) as well as alternative thiol ester and oxygen ester substrates (butyrylthiocholine/phenyl acetate; thiophenyl acetate/butyrylcholine; acetylthiocholine/phenyl acetate). On the basis of the conclusion that a single enzyme is responsible for the activity, a molecular model is proposed. This model involves an acylated enzyme, and implies binding to the enzyme of one acyl group and one ester molecule, but not two ester molecules at the same time. Thus butyrylcholinesterase, which is structurally a tetramer, behaves functionally as a co-operative dimer, an interpretation in accordance with available data from active-site titrations.