The catalytic properties and substrate preference of several highly purified human ribonucleases from different organs and body fluids have been examined in detail using various low-molecular-weight compounds and single- or double-stranded polyribonucleotides as substrates. All single-stranded polyribonucleotides were degraded by nonpancreatic-type (npt) RNases at a slower rate than by pancreatic-type (pt) enzymes: ptRNases were 20 times more active on RNA and poly(U) substrates and more than 6000 times more active on poly(C). Pancreatic-type RNases degraded poly(C) faster than RNA, showing a strong preference for poly(C) over poly(U) with the following activity ratios: RNA/poly(C), 0.44; RNA/poly(U), 12; poly(C)/poly(U), 27. In contrast, nptRNases cleaved RNA more rapidly than synthetic homopolymers, preferring poly(U) over poly(C) with the following ratios: RNA/poly(C), 130; RNA/poly(U), 10; poly(C)/poly(U), 0.08. Human ptRNases degraded poly(A) and double-stranded polyribonucleotides about 100 and 400 times faster, respectively, than bovine RNase A. However, no measurable activity could be detected on these substrates with nptRNases. The activities of ptRNases on dinucleoside phosphates (CpN and UpN) or uridine and cytidine 2',3'-cyclic phosphates were similar to those of bovine RNase A; nptRNases, instead, cleaved only CpA and UpA at an appreciable rate. The effects of pH, ionic strength, and divalent cations on the activity of these ribonucleases were also investigated using yeast RNA as a substrate.