Molecular cloning revealed the unique serpin endopin 2C that demonstrates selective inhibition of cathepsin L compared to papain or elastase. Endopin 2C, thus, functions as a serpin with the property of cross-class inhibition. Endopin 2C possesses homology in primary sequence to endopin 2A and other isoforms of endopins related to alpha1-antichymotrypsin, yet endopin 2C differs in its target protease specificity. Recombinant endopin 2C showed effective inhibition of cathepsin L with a stoichiometry of inhibition (SI) of 1/1 (molar ratio of inhibitor/protease), with the second-order rate constant, k(ass), of 7.2 x 10(5) M(-1) s(-1). Less effective endopin 2C inhibition of papain and elastase occurred with k(ass) association rate constants of approximately 1 x 10(4) M(-1) s(-1) with high SI values. Endopin 2C formed SDS-stable complexes with cathepsin L, papain, and elastase that are typical of serpins. These results are among the first to demonstrate stable serpin complexes with target cysteine proteases. Interactions of endopin 2C with cathepsin L and elastase were indicated by protease cleavage of the RSL region between P1-P1' residues of Thr-Ser. The hydrophobic Phe residue in the P2 position of the RSL region is consistent with the specificity of cathepsin L for hydrophobic residues in the P2 position of its substrate cleavage site. The NH2-terminal signal sequence of endopin 2C, like that of cathepsin L, predicts their colocalization to subcellular organelles. These findings demonstrate endopin 2C as a novel serpin that possesses cross-class inhibition with selectivity for inhibition of cathepsin L.