Tobacco etch virus NIa proteinase (TEV protease) is an important tool for the removal of fusion tags from recombinant proteins. Production of TEV protease in Escherichia coli has been hampered by insolubility and addressed by many different strategies. However, the best previous results and newer approaches for protein expression have not been combined to test whether further improvements are possible. Here, we use a quantitative, high-throughput assay for TEV protease activity in cell lysates to evaluate the efficacy of combining several previous modifications with new expression hosts and induction methods. Small-scale screening, purification and mass spectral analysis showed that TEV protease with a C-terminal poly-Arg tag was proteolysed in the cell to remove four of the five arginine residues. The truncated form was active and soluble but in contrast, the tagged version was also active but considerably less soluble. An engineered TEV protease lacking the C-terminal residues 238-242 was then used for further expression optimization. From this work, expression of TEV protease at high levels and with high solubility was obtained by using auto-induction medium at 37 degrees C. In combination with the expression work, an automated two-step purification protocol was developed that yielded His-tagged TEV protease with >99% purity, high catalytic activity and purified yields of approximately 400 mg/L of expression culture (approximately 15 mg pure TEV protease per gram of E. coli cell paste). Methods for producing glutathione-S-transferase-tagged TEV with similar yields (approximately 12 mg pure protease fusion per gram of E. coli cell paste) are also reported.