Trophozoites of Plasmodium falciparum obtain free amino acids for protein synthesis by degrading host erythrocyte hemoglobin in an acidic food vacuole. We previously reported that leupeptin and L-trans-epoxysuccinyl-leucylamido(4-guanidino)butane (E-64), two inhibitors of the cysteine class of proteinases, blocked hemoglobin degradation in the trophozoite food vacuole, and we identified a 28-kDa trophozoite cysteine proteinase as a potential food vacuole hemoglobinase. We now report that the biochemical properties of the trophozoite cysteine proteinase closely resembled those of the lysosomal cysteine proteinases cathepsin B and cathepsin L. The trophozoite proteinase had a pH optimum of 5.5-6.0, near that of both lysosomal proteinases, and it was efficiently inhibited by highly specific diazomethylketone and fluoromethylketone inhibitors of cathepsin B and cathepsin L. The trophozoite proteinase preferred peptide substrates with arginine adjacent to hydrophobic amino acids, as does cathepsin L. Micromolar concentrations of the fluoromethylketone inhibitor Z-Phe-Ala-Ch2F blocked the degradation of hemoglobin in the trophozoite food vacuole and prevented parasite multiplication. In previous studies much higher concentrations of the inhibitor were not toxic for mice. Our results provide additional evidence that the 28-kDa trophozoite proteinase is a food vacuole hemoglobinase and suggest that specific inhibitors of the enzyme may have potential as antimalarial drugs.