Recent amino acid sequence data suggest that trypsin-like and carboxypeptidase B-like activities are required for the processing of pituitary prohormones--e.g., pro-opiocortin (pro-adrenocorticotropin/lipotropin) and provasopressin in secretory granules. In this study the existence of a carboxypeptidase B activity in purified secretory granules from anterior, intermediate, and neural lobes of rat pituitary has been examined. A carboxypeptidase B activity that cleaved the COOH-terminal -Lys-Lys-Arg residues from the adrenocorticotropin fragment ACTH-(1-17) (a potential hormone product liberated from pro-opiocortin by a trypsin-like enzyme) was detected in anterior and intermediate lobe granules. A similar carboxypeptidase B activity was also present in purified secretory granules from rat pituitary neural lobes that cleaved the -Lys-Arg residues from [Arg8]vasopressin-Gly-Lys-Arg, a potential product cleaved from provasopressin. Secretory granule carboxypeptidase(s) from the three lobes of the pituitary was shown to cleave 125I-[Met]enkephalin-Arg6 to form 125I-[Met]enkephalin as well. 125I-[Met]Enkephalin was used as a model substrate for the quantitative assay of pituitary carboxypeptidase activity. The carboxypeptidase B in secretory granules from all three lobes was shown to be active at pH 5.5, but not at pH 7.4. Inhibition by the zinc metallocarboxypeptidase inhibitors guanidinopropylsuccinic acid, aminomercaptosuccinic acid, benzylsuccinic acid, 2-mercaptomethyl-3-guanidinoethylthiopropanoic acid, and the potato carboxypeptidase B inhibitor, and inhibition by the metal chelators EDTA and 1,10-phenanthroline demonstrate metal ion dependence of the pituitary granule carboxypeptidase activities. However, Co2+ stimulated the secretory granule carboxypeptidase B activities. Thiol protease inhibitors such as Cu2+ and p-chloromercuriphenylsulfonic acid also inhibited the activity. Thus, the secretory granule carboxypeptidase B-like activities in all three lobes of the pituitary appear to be similar thiol-metallopeptidases that differ from other carboxypeptidase activities previously described and may play an exclusive role in hormone biosynthesis in the pituitary.