Examples of pyruvate dehydrogenase complexes, and of its probable precursors, the pyruvate ferredoxin oxidoreductases, both isolated from thermophilic organisms, are described. The pyruvate ferredoxin oxidoreductases are mostly characterized from thermophilic archaea like Sulfolobus solfataricus and Pyrococcus furiosus. They retain their catalytic activity up to 60 and 90 degreesC, respectively. Characteristic for the thermophilic nature is a biphasic temperature behavior, reflecting a more stable low temperature and a metastable high temperature form. Another feature is the strong binding of the cofactor thiamin diphosphate. Detailed analysis of thermostable pyruvate dehydrogenase complexes so far only exist for the enzymes from Bacillus stearothermophilus and Thermus flavus. In most respects, especially in the structural features, the enzyme complex from B. stearothermophilus resembles its mesophilic counterparts and only an elevated temperature maximum for the catalytic activity reveals the thermophilic nature. In contrast to this, the more thermostable enzyme complex from T. flavus shows a quite distinct behavior. One single protein chain (Mr=100 kDa) instead of an alpha2beta2 aggregate was found for the pyruvate dehydrogenase (E1) subunits of this enzyme complex. Its catalytic activity is controlled by allosteric regulation, while the enzyme complex from B. stearothermophilus shows no such regulation. Reversible phosphorylation as a regulatory principle of pyruvate dehydrogenase complexes from higher organisms does not take place in the thermophilic enzyme complexes. The overall activity of the enzyme complex from B. stearothermophilus remains stable at 60 degreesC for 50 min while that from T. flavus is active up to 83 degreesC. Thermophilic pyruvate dehydrogenase complexes do not spontaneously renature from their separated enzyme components. However, chaperonins from Thermus thermophilus stimulate the reactivation of the enzyme complex from T. flavus.