The monocyte and granulocyte azurophilic granule proteinases elastase, proteinase 3, and cathepsin G are implicated in acute and chronic diseases thought to result from an imbalance between the secreted proteinase(s) and circulating serpins such as alpha1-proteinase inhibitor and alpha1-antichymotrypsin. We show here that the intracellular serpin, proteinase inhibitor 6 (PI-6), is present in monocytes, granulocytes, and myelomonocytic cell lines. In extracts from these cells, PI-6 bound an endogenous membrane-associated serine proteinase to form an sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-stable complex. Using antibodies to urokinase, elastase, proteinase 3, or cathepsin G, we demonstrated that the complex contains cathepsin G. Native cathepsin G and recombinant PI-6 formed an SDS-stable complex in vitro similar in size to that observed in the extracts. Further kinetic analysis demonstrated that cathepsin G and PI-6 rapidly form a tight 1:1 complex (ka = 6.8 +/- 0.2 x 10(6) mol/L-1s-1 at 17 degrees C; Ki = 9.2 +/- 0.04 x 10(-10) mol/L). We propose that PI-6 complements alpha1-proteinase inhibitor and alpha1-antichymotrypsin (which control extracellular proteolysis) by neutralizing cathepsin G that leaks into the cytoplasm of monocytes or granulocytes during biosynthesis or phagocytosis. Control of intracellular cathepsin G may be particularly important, because it has recently been shown to activate the proapoptotic proteinase, caspase-7.