Cercarial secretions from different species of the parasite Schistosoma and from Trichobilharzia ocellata contain a proteolytic activity, cercarial elastase, which was demonstrated by a 30 kDa band in gelatin gels. Sera of patients infected with Schistosoma mansoni, Schistosoma haematobium or Schistosoma japonicum contain immunoglobulin G which react in ELISA with cercarial secretions from all schistosomes and cross-react among the different parasite species. In Western blots, however, infection sera from patients, as well as heavily infected mice or rabbits, did not react with a 30-kDa protein. Moreover, when sections from infected snails (Biomphalaria, Bulinus and Lymnaea) were analysed by immunofluorescence using the same infection sera, only the tegument of the developing cercariae was recognized, but not the acetabular glands. In contrast, when antisera against purified cercarial elastase from either S. mansoni or S. haematobium were tested with sections of infected Biomphalaria or Bulinus, fluorescence was strong in the preacetabular glands of the cercariae of either species, but undetectable with the tegument. Cross-reactivity of both antisera extended to T. ocellata-infected Lymnaea, but not to S. japonicum-infected Oncomelania. In conclusion, although immunization with purified cercarial elastase results in antibody production, the enzyme does not induce an apparent antibody response following natural infection.