Extracellular cleavage of virus envelope fusion glycoproteins by host cellular proteases is a prerequisite for the infectivity of mammalian and nonpathogenic avian influenza viruses, and Sendai virus. Here we report a protease present in the airway that, like tryptase Clara, can process influenza A virus haemagglutinin and Sendai virus envelope fusion glycoprotein. This protease was extracted from the membrane fraction of rat lungs, purified and then identified as a mini-plasmin. Mini-plasmin was distributed predominantly in the epithelial cells of the upward divisions of bronchioles and potentiated the replication of broad-spectrum influenza A viruses and Sendai virus, even that of the plasmin-insensitive influenza A virus strain. In comparison with plasmin, its increased hydrophobicity, leading to its higher local concentrations on membranes, and decreased molecular mass may enable mini-plasmin to gain ready access to the cleavage sites of various haemagglutinins and fusion glycoproteins after expression of these viral proteins on the cell surface. These findings suggest that mini-plasmin in the airway may play a pivotal role in the spread of viruses and their pathogenicity.