Carboxypeptidase H is a putative post-translational processing enzyme which removes basic amino acid residues from intermediates during protein hormone biosynthesis. A 2.2-kilobase pair cDNA was shown to contain the complete amino acid sequence of rat carboxypeptidase H. The deduced amino acid sequence revealed that the enzyme was synthesized as preprocarboxypeptidase H, a precursor form of 476 amino acid residues. Preprocarboxypeptidase H contained a putative hydrophobic signal peptide and a short propeptide which contained 5 adjacent Arg residues at its C terminus. Northern blot analysis identified a single carboxypeptidase H mRNA of approximately 2.3 kilobases in brain, pituitary, and heart, as well as in mouse AtT20 cells. No carboxypeptidase H mRNA was detected in rat liver, spleen, kidney, lung, and mammary gland. Sequence analysis of cDNAs obtained from different rat tissues suggested that a single mRNA encodes an identical carboxypeptidase in several tissues. Treatment of AtT20 cells with dexamethasone decreased the levels of both carboxypeptidase H and preproopiomelanocortin (POMC) mRNAs by approximately 30%. Exposure of the dexamethasone-treated cells to corticotropin-releasing factor effected a 2- to 3-fold increase in the carboxypeptidase H and POMC mRNA levels relative to those of dexamethasone-treated cells exposed to control medium. This suggests that the mRNA levels of POMC and one of its putative post-translational processing enzymes, carboxypeptidase H, are co-regulated by corticotropin-releasing factor and steroid hormones.