A synthetic DNA fragment encoding a protease precursor of the human immunodeficiency virus type 2 (HIV2) was cloned and expressed in bacteria and yeast. A recombinant plasmid encoding a hybrid polypeptide consisting of human superoxide dismutase and an HIV2 protease precursor of 113 amino acids was constructed for regulated intracellular expression in bacteria. Induction of this plasmid produced an autoprocessed form of the retroviral enzyme possessing the correct molecular weight. Overexpression and secretion of the protease from yeast was achieved with an expression vector encoding the yeast pheromone alpha-factor signal/leader sequence fused to a protease precursor of 115 amino acids. Amino-terminal sequence analysis confirmed that the viral enzyme exported from yeast was correctly processed from its precursor by cleavage of the predicted Ala-Pro peptide bond located at the NH2 terminus of the protease in the pol open reading frame. No additional amino acid residues were required at the COOH terminus of the protease for this autoproteolytic event. The HIV2 protease expressed in bacteria and yeast was active in an in vitro assay when tested on the HIV1 polyprotein precursor, myristylated Pr53gag. Two synthetic peptides representing junction sequences in the HIV1 gag-pol precursor were used to assay purified HIV2 protease. The enzyme exhibited a kcat/KM of 23.2 min-1 mM-1 on the HIV1 matrix-capsid junction peptide and a kcat/KM of 71.4 min-1 mM-1 on the protease-reverse transcriptase junction peptide. These rates show that the HIV2 enzyme is efficient at hydrolyzing the HIV1 peptide junctions, revealing the analogous nature of the substrate specificities of the two enzymes.