Neurotransmitter release is potently blocked by a group of structurally related toxin proteins produced by Clostridium botulinum. Botulinum neurotoxin type B (BoNT/B) and tetanus toxin (TeTx) are zinc-dependent proteases that specifically cleave synaptobrevin (VAMP), a membrane protein of synaptic vesicles. Here we report that inhibition of transmitter release from synaptosomes caused by botulinum neurotoxin A (BoNT/A) is associated with the selective proteolysis of the synaptic protein SNAP-25. Furthermore, isolated or recombinant L chain of BoNT/A cleaves SNAP-25 in vitro. Cleavage occurred near the carboxyterminus and was sensitive to divalent cation chelators. In addition, a glutamate residue in the BoNT/A L chain, presumably required to stabilize a water molecule in the zinc-containing catalytic centre, was required for proteolytic activity. These findings demonstrate that BoNT/A acts as a zinc-dependent protease that selectively cleaves SNAP-25. Thus, a second component of the putative fusion complex mediating synaptic vesicle exocytosis is targeted by a clostridial neurotoxin.