The Fc gamma receptor type IIIb (CD16) is highly expressed on human neutrophils and is found in a soluble form in plasma and in other body fluids. Upon activation of neutrophils in vitro, Fc gamma RIIIb is shed from the cell surface by proteolytic cleavage. We have now investigated the effect of metalloproteinase inhibitors and a serine proteinase inhibitor on the shedding of Fc gamma RIIIb induced by phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) or cytochalasin B (cyto B) + N-formyl-methionyl-leucyl-phenylalanine (fMLP). Metalloproteinase inhibitors blocked to a large extent PMA-induced, but not cyto B + fMLP-induced shedding of Fc gamma RIIIb. Inhibition of members of the ADAM (a disintegrin and metalloproteinase) family appeared most efficient. In contrast, the serine protease inhibitor N-methoxysuccinyl-alanine-alanine-proline-valine-chloromethylketone (MeOsuc-AAPV-CMK) largely blocked cyto B + fMLP-induced, but not PMA-induced shedding of Fc gamma RIIIb. Metalloproteinase inhibitors in combination with the serine proteinase inhibitor resulted in full inhibition of Fc gamma RIIIb shedding induced by either PMA or cyto B + fMLP. The shedding of Fc gamma RIIIb that accompanied apoptosis was inhibited by 60% in the presence of inhibitors of metalloproteinases but was insensitive to inhibition of serine proteinases. These results show that distinct types of proteolytic enzyme are involved in the stimulus-induced shedding of Fc gamma RIIIb from human neutrophils and suggest that these proteinases may become differentially activated under various physiological or pathological conditions.