The arginine-specific protease activity of Porphyromonas gingivalis is considered to be an important factor in the pathogenic potential of this organism in destructive periodontal disease. Multiple forms of closely related Arg-x proteases are present in the culture supernatants of P. gingivalis W50. RI is a heterodimer (alpha/beta) in which the catalytic alpha chain is associated with a second beta chain which functions as a haemagglutinin. RIA is a single-chain enzyme (alpha) and RIB is a highly post-translationally lipid-modified enzyme (LPS-alpha) with reduced solubility compared to the other two forms. The N-terminal sequence of the alpha chain of all three forms is identical, suggesting that all these enzymes may arise by differential processing of the prpR1 (protease polyprotein for RI). In the present study we constructed a prpR1- strain of P. gingivalis W50 by insertional gene inactivation and characterized the residual extracellular Arg-x protease activity of the resulting mutant. Loss of prpR1 expression led to the abolition of RI, RIA and RIB but the total Arg-x activity in the supernatant of this strain was reduced by only c. 66%. The remaining activity was composed of two novel forms of Arg-x protease (RIIA and RIIB) which appeared to be structurally and kinetically almost identical to RIA and RIB, respectively, except for two amino acid differences in the N-terminus at position 8 (Q-->E) and position 17 (A-->P) and with respect to their stability to high pH. Confirmation that RIIA and RIIB are the products of a homologous locus (prR2) was obtained by cloning and sequencing the prR2 which showed the predicted substitutions in the deduced translation. These data indicate that RI, RIA and RIB are produced by prpR1 expression and a maturation pathway which can give rise to a dimer and an unmodified- or LPS-modified catalytic monomer. Furthermore, RIIA and RIIB, the products of prR2, are exported into the culture supernatant in the absence of prpR1 expression and these forms may also contribute to the pathogenic potential of this organism in destructive disease.