Serine proteinases from three strains of Sitophilus zeamais (Coleoptera: Curculionidae), one susceptible and two resistant to insecticides--one exhibiting fitness cost (resistant cost strain) and the other lacking it (resistant no-cost strain), were partially purified using an aprotinin-agarose affinity column providing purification factors ranging from 36.5 to 51.2%, with yields between 10 and 15% and activity between 529 and 875 microM/min/mg protein with the substrate N-alpha-benzoyl-L-Arg-p-nitroanilide (L-BApNA). SDS-PAGE of the purified fraction revealed a 56,000 Da molecular mass band in all strains and a 70,000 Da band more visible in the resistant no-cost strain. The purified proteinases from all strains were inhibited by phenylmethyl sulphonyl fluoride (PMSF), N-alpha-tosyl-L-lysine chloromethyl ketone (TLCK), aprotinin, benzamidine and soybean trypsin inhibitor (SBTI) characterizing them as trypsin-like serine proteinases. Trypsin-like proteinases from the resistant strains exhibited higher affinity for L-BApNA. The resistant no-cost strain exhibited V(max)-values 1.5- and 1.7-fold higher than the susceptible and resistance cost strains, respectively. A similar trend was also observed when using N-alpha-p-tosyl-L-Arg methyl ester (L-TAME) as substrate. These results provide support to the hypothesis that the enhanced serine proteinase activity may be playing a role in mitigating physiological costs associated with the maintenance of insecticide resistance mechanisms in some maize weevil strains.