The paracaspase domain of MALT1 (mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma translocation protein 1) is a component of a gene translocation fused to the N-terminal domains of the cellular inhibitor of apoptosis protein 2. The paracaspase itself, commonly known as MALT1, participates in the NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) pathway, probably by driving survival signals downstream of the B-cell antigen receptor through MALT1 proteolytic activity. We have developed methods for the expression and purification of recombinant full-length MALT1 and its constituent catalytic domain alone. Both are activated by dimerization without cleavage, with a similar dimerization barrier to the distantly related cousins, the apical caspases. By using positional-scanning peptidyl substrate libraries we demonstrate that the activity and specificity of full-length MALT1 is recapitulated by the catalytic domain alone, showing a stringent requirement for cleaving after arginine, and with striking peptide length constraints for efficient hydrolysis. Rates of cleavage (kcat/Km values) of optimal peptidyl substrates are in the same order (10(3)-10(4) M(-1)·s(-1)) as for a putative target protein CYLD. Thus MALT1 has many similarities to caspase 8, even cleaving the putative target protein CYLD with comparable efficiencies, but with diametrically opposite primary substrate specificity.