Proprotein precursors of vacuolar components are transported from the endoplasmic reticulum into vacuoles, where they are proteolytically processed into their mature forms. However, the processing mechanism in plant vacuoles is very obscure. Characterization of a purified processing enzyme is required to determine whether a single enzyme is responsible for processing many vacuolar proteins with a large variability of molecular structure. If this is true, how can it recognize the numerous varieties of processing sites? We have now purified a processing enzyme (Mr = 37,000) from castor bean seeds. Our results show that the purified enzyme can process 3 different proproteins isolated from either the endoplasmic reticulum or transport vesicles in cotyledon cells to produce the mature forms of these proteins which are found at different suborganellar locations in the vacuole: the 2S protein found in the soluble matrix, the 11S globulin found in the insoluble crystalloid and the 51 kDa protein associated with the membrane. Thus a single vacuolar processing enzyme is capable of converting several proprotein precursors into their respective mature forms.