In a series of pairs of lung tumor tissue and non-tumor lung parenchyma from 50 patients, the activity of cathepsin L was measured with Z-Phe-Arg-AMC using the inhibitor CA-074 to delimitate from cathepsin B activity also present in the tissue extracts. Cathepsin B was assessed in the same samples with its specific substrate Z-Arg-Arg-AMC. It was found that in tumor tissue the median activities of cathepsin L and cathepsin B were increased 1.6-fold and 4.9-fold, respectively. The levels of activity of both enzymes did not correlate with TNM stages nor with cell differentiation of bronchial carcinomas. Cathepsin L activity was found to be insignificantly higher in adenocarcinoma compared to squamous cell carcinoma, while cathepsin B activity did not vary across the histologies. The activities of both enzymes were low in pulmonary carcinoids, which are known to be low-grade malignant neoplasms. The amount of cathepsin B activity exceeded by far that of cathepsin L activity as proven by measurement with Z-Phe-Arg-AMC in the presence of the inhibitor Z-Phe-Phe-CHN2:95-98% of cathepsin B activity vs 2-5% of cathepsin L activity were determined. By SDS-PAGE separation and immunoblot analysis, it could be demonstrated that significant amount of cathepsin L is complexed with the cysteine proteinase inhibitor kininogen. This explains the rather low cathepsin L activity values in the tissue extracts.