The molecular pathology of the deficient arylsulfatase B activity in feline mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) VI was investigated. Compared with the highly purified normal feline hepatic enzyme, the purified MPS VI residual activity had a 100-fold higher Michaelis constant (Km), an altered electrophoretic mobility, half the apparent native molecular weight, and markedly decreased thermo-, cryo-, and pH stabilities. Molecular weight and alkylation studies were consistent with the normal enzyme being a homodimer and the residual MPS VI enzyme a monomer. When incubated with various sulfhydryl reagents, the residual specific activity was enhanced several-fold, whereas the activity of the purified normal enzyme was unaffected or slightly inhibited. In the presence of dithiothreitol (DTT) and cysteamine, a lysosomotropic aminothiol, the residual activity had an electrophoretic mobility and native molecular weight similar to those of the normal feline enzyme. These findings suggested that the monomeric residual enzyme was dimerized in the presence of thiol-reducing agents. To determine if thiol-induced subunit association could therapeutically increase the residual activity and degrade the accumulated dermatan sulfate, in vitro and in vivo experiments were undertaken. When 2 mM DTT or cysteamine was incubated with heparinized whole blood from an MPS VI cat, the leukocyte residual arylsulfatase B activity increased 11- and 20-fold, respectively, and the accumulated dermatan sulfate was degraded in the presence of both thiol reagents. Intravenous administration of DDT (50 mg/kg) effected an immediate, but transient, increase in leukocyte residual activity; however, the substrate levels were not significantly decreased. In contrast, intravenous administration of cysteamine (15 mg/kg) increased leukocyte residual activity more than sixfold 30 min postinfusion; concomitantly, the leukocyte substrate was decreased to 35% of the initial level immediately after infusion and to about 45% of preinfusion values during the 120-min period studied. These results suggest that the defective residual activity in feline MPS VI can be therapeutically manipulated by thiol-induced subunit association. Furthermore, this animal analog provides a prototype for the investigation of human inborn errors of metabolism resulting from enzymatic defects that might be amenable to enzyme manipulation therapy.