Subtilisin E, an alkaline serine protease of Bacillus subtilis 168, is first produced as a precursor, pre-pro-subtilisin, which consists of a signal peptide for protein secretion (pre-sequence) and a peptide extension of 77 amino acid residues (pro-sequence) between the signal peptide and mature subtilisin. When the entire coding region for pre-pro-subtilisin E was cloned into an Escherichia coli expression vector, active mature subtilisin E was secreted into the periplasmic space. When the pre-sequence was replaced with the E. coli OmpA signal peptide, active subtilisin E was also produced. When the OmpA signal peptide was directly fused to the mature subtilisin sequence, no protease activity was detected, although this product had the identical primary structure as subtilisin E as a result of cleavage of the OmpA signal peptide and was produced at a level of approximately 10% of total cellular protein. When the OmpA signal peptide was fused to the 15th or 44th amino acid residue from the amino terminus of the pro-sequence, active subtilisin was also not produced. These results indicate that the pro-sequence of pre-pro-subtilisin plays an important role in the formation of enzymatically active subtilisin. It is proposed that the pro-sequence is essential for guiding appropriate folding of the enzymatically active conformation of subtilisin E.