To evaluate the proportion of cases of myoglobinuria that can be ascribed to specific metabolic defects, we have studied eight enzymes--phosphorylase, phosphorylase kinase, phosphofructokinase (PFK), phosphoglycerate kinase (PGK), phosphoglycerate mutase (PGAM), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), carnitine palmitoyltransferase (CPT), and myoadenylate deaminase (MAD)--in muscle biopsy specimens from 77 consecutive patients with myoglobinuria (documented in 44, suspected in 33). Enzyme defects were found in 36 patients: CPT deficiency in 17, phosphorylase deficiency in 10, phosphorylase kinase deficiency in 4, MAD deficiency in 3, PGK deficiency in 1, and a combined defect of CPT and MAD in 1. Exercise was the main precipitating factor, both in patients with and in those without detectable enzymopathies. Thirty patients had specific enzymopathies without myoglobinuria: 14 had phosphorylase deficiency, 9 had MAD deficiency, 3 had phosphorylase kinase deficiency, 3 had PFK deficiency, and 1 had PGAM deficiency. Systematic biochemical evaluation of muscle biopsy specimens revealed specific enzymopathies in about half of the patients with idiopathic myoglobinuria. The rest may have blocks of metabolic pathways not yet studied routinely, such as beta oxidation, or genetic defects of the sarcolemma, such as Becker's muscular dystrophy.