We investigated the ability of free fatty acids to inhibit the activity of Clostridium histolyticum collagenase (EC 18.104.22.168) and human neutrophil elastase (EC 22.214.171.124). We determined the activity of collagenase by degradation of resorufin-labeled casein fluorimetrically. The determination of the elastase activity was performed by a spectrophotometric method using a 4-nitroanilide peptide substrate. We found that most of the tested fatty acids inhibited collagenase at concentrations between 50 microM and 500 microM. For elastase we found an inhibition of the activity at concentrations between 500 nM and 50 microM. The most potent inhibitory fatty acids of both enzymes differed. Thus, as a result for collagenase we can assume that the saturated fatty acids with C(16)-C(19) were the most potent ones. For elastase the inhibition rate of unsaturated acids was much higher than the rate of the saturated ones. The highly active erucic acid with an IC(50) value of 450 nM (elastase) is remarkable.