Kinetic constants for the hydrolysis of the series of p-nitroanilide peptide substrates catalyzed by subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis strain 72 have been determined. The series of N-protected p-nitroanilides of the Z-A2-A1-pNA, Z-A3-A2-A1-pNA, Z-A4-A3-A2-A1-pNA types (Z-, benzyloxycarbonyl-1; -pNA, p-nitroanilide; A1-An, amino acid residues of the L-configuration) have been used. Subsite S1 reveals a preference for hydrophobic amino acid residues, i.e., leucine and phenylalanine. A preference for Leu over Phe at this position is manifested at the catalytic step, but not during the binding process. The beta-branched (Val, Ile) and the basic (Arg) amino acid residues cannot interact with the S1 subsite and the hydrolysis of the corresponding peptides occurs exclusively at the A2-A1 bond. If S1/A1 interactions are weak (Ala, Nva, Nle), the amino acid residue A1 can interact with subsites S1 and S'1 resulting in the hydrolysis at two bonds (A1-pNA and A2-A1). The data obtained suggests that the S'1 subsite is of broad selectivity. Subsite S2 reveals a preference for small amino acid residues. At pH 5.5-9 and below 50 degrees C, the subtilisin study does not lose its activity. At higher temperatures a rapid thermoinactivation occurs. Substrate binding stabilizes the enzyme. The temperature dependences of the kinetic and thermodynamic parameters suggest that the enzyme exists in two, i.e., 'cold' and 'hot' forms. At 22 degrees C the 'cold' form turns into the 'hot' one possibly owing to a conformational change. The enzyme-substrate complex does not exhibit such behavior and exists in only one form in the whole temperature range studied. The activity of an uncomplexed enzyme is controlled by a group of pKa = 7.2 +/- 0.1, which probably belongs to the histidine imidazole.