CPP32, which is most closely related to CED-3 in the apoptotic protease in C. elegance, is activated during apoptosis induced by anti-Fas and TNF. Since processing of CPP32 is important for the activation, we examined the effects of protease inhibitors on CPP32-like activity in the TNF-treated U937 cells. Unexpectedly, proteasome inhibitors (at 5 microM) such as Z-LLnV, Z-LLL, and lactacystin enhanced CPP32-like activity, Ac-DEVD-MCA degrading activity, in the TNF-treated U937 cells in 3 hr, but E64d, cysteine protease inhibitor, did not. These proteasome inhibitors alone did not enhance CPP32-like activity in the untreated U937 cells under the condition used. The proteasome seems to protect the cells from apoptosis by degrading CPP32-like protease or its processing enzyme.