Saposins A, B, C, and D, which are required for the enzymatic hydrolysis of sphingolipids by specific lysosomal hydrolases, are produced by proteolytic processing of their common precursor protein, prosaposin. Our previous observation suggested that lysosomal cathepsin D may be involved in the proteolysis of prosaposin. Herein we report the involvement of cathepsin D in the proteolytic processing of prosaposin. An antibody against human placental cathepsin D blocked the proteolytic activity toward prosaposin in a human testicular lysosomal protease mixture (glycoprotein fraction). On immunoblot analysis using a monoclonal antibody against human saposin C, cathepsin D showed a similar proteolytic pattern as that of a human testicular glycoprotein fraction and hydrolyzed prosaposin into products of 48 and 29 kDa. The Km and Vmax values were 0.9 microM and 167 nmol/h/mg, respectively. N-Terminal sequence analysis indicated that the 48-kDa band was a mixture of two trisaposins, including domains for saposins A, B, and C and saposins B, C, and D, respectively. A similar study also showed that the 29-kDa band contained two disaposins, including domains for saposins A and B and saposins C and D, respectively. By longer treatment with cathepsin D, disaposins were further processed into mature saposin A and small fragments (14.5-17.5 kDa) containing individual saposins and portions of interdomain sequences. These small fragments were no longer processed by cathepsin D, but trimmed to fragments having similar molecular sizes (10.5-11.5 kDa) to those of mature saposins by a rat lysosome preparation. These findings indicated that cathepsin D is involved in the maturation of saposins but that, in addition to cathepsin D, other proteases appear to be involved in the maturation of saposin B, C, and D in lysosomes. Gangliosides, which specifically form complexes with prosaposin and saposins, inhibit proteolysis of prosaposin by cathepsin D. This finding indicates that prosaposin may be protected from lysosomal proteolysis by forming a complex with gangliosides in vivo.