Expression of Norwalk virus nonstructural polyprotein precursor in vitro resulted in rapid cotranslational cleavage at specific sites. The cleavage products were similar to those previously identified for Southampton virus, a highly related virus. We inactivated the virally encoded proteinase responsible for cleavage of the nonstructural polyprotein by mutation of the putative catalytic cysteine residue, which resulted in production of full-length polyprotein precursor. NV proteinase was expressed in Escherichia coli as a glutathione S-transferase fusion and purified by GST-affinity chromatography. Activity of the purified proteinase was demonstrated by incubation with the full-length precursor protein. trans cleavage of the nonstructural protein precursor resulted in cleavage products similar to those observed during cotranslational cleavage, however, at lesser efficiency. NV proteinase displayed sensitivities to cysteine and serine protease inhibitors similar to poliovirus 3C proteinase, suggesting that NV proteinase is a member of the viral cysteine proteinase family. We propose that the proteinase may play a regulatory role in viral replication.