Serine proteases of the chymotrypsin fold are of great interest because they provide detailed understanding of their enzymatic properties and their proposed role in a number of physiological and pathological processes. We have been developing the macromolecular inhibitor ecotin to be a "fold-specific" inhibitor that is selective for members of the chymotrypsin-fold class of proteases. Inhibition of protease activity through the use of wild-type and engineered ecotins results in inhibition of rat prostate differentiation and retardation of the growth of human PC-3 prostatic cancer tumors. In an effort to identify the proteases that may be involved in these processes, reverse transcription-PCR with PC-3 poly(A)+ mRNA was performed by using degenerate oligonucleotide primers. These primers were designed by using conserved protein sequences unique to chymotrypsin-fold serine proteases. Five proteases were identified: urokinase-type plasminogen activator, factor XII, protein C, trypsinogen IV, and a protease that we refer to as membrane-type serine protease 1 (MT-SP1). The cloning and characterization of the MT-SP1 cDNA shows that it encodes a mosaic protein that contains a transmembrane signal anchor, two CUB domains, four LDLR repeats, and a serine protease domain. Northern blotting shows broad expression of MT-SP1 in a variety of epithelial tissues with high levels of expression in the human gastrointestinal tract and the prostate. A His-tagged fusion of the MT-SP1 protease domain was expressed in Escherichia coli, purified, and autoactivated. Ecotin and variant ecotins are subnanomolar inhibitors of the MT-SP1 activated protease domain, suggesting a possible role for MT-SP1 in prostate differentiation and the growth of prostatic carcinomas.