An aminopeptidase N (pepN) gene was detected by DNA hybridization from an industrially important Lactobacillus helveticus strain using part of the L. helveticus CNRZ32 pepN gene as the probe. One of five hybridization positive clones was characterized in more detail. A subcloned 3.7 kb fragment, positive in hybridization and encoding aminopeptidase activity, was sequenced and analyzed. Only one open reading frame (ORF) of 2532 base pairs with a coding capacity for a 95.9 kDa protein could be found. The deduced amino acid sequence of the 95.9 kDa protein showed homology to PepN proteins from other lactic acid bacteria and carried the conserved catalytic and zinc binding sites of the neutral zinc metallo-peptidase family confirming the identity of the pepN gene. A 2.75 kb transcript and two transcription start sites were identified with mRNA analyses. Expression of pepN in L. helveticus, studied as the function of growth, revealed a high level of pepN transcripts throughout the growth, in contrast to the steady state levels of other peptidase mRNAs from L. helveticus analyzed in our laboratory.