Choline oxidase catalyzes the oxidation of choline to glycine- betaine, with betaine-aldehyde as intermediate and molecular oxygen as primary electron acceptor. This study reports on the inhibitory effects of triarylmethanes (cationic malachite green; neutral leukomalachite green), phenoxazines (cationic, meldola blue and nile blue; neutral nile red) and a structurally-related phenothiazine (methylene blue) on choline oxidase, assayed at 25 degrees C in 50 mM MOPS buffer, pH 7, using choline as substrate. Methylene B acted as a competitive inhibitor with K-i 74 +/- 7.2 mM, pointing to the choline-binding site of the enzyme as a target site. Nile B caused noncompetitive inhibition of enzyme activity with K-i 20 +/- 4.5 mM. In contrast to methylene B and nile B, malachite G and meldola B caused complex, nonlinear inhibition of choline oxidase, with estimated K-i values in the micromolar range. The difference in kinetic pattern was ascribed to the differential ability of the dyes to interact (and interfere) with the flavin cofactor, generating different perturbations in the steady-state balance of the catalytic process.