An acidic proteinase was purified from human kidney cortex. The enzyme showed a molecular mass of 31 kDa by SDS-PAGE, 36 kDa by gel filtration, and isoelectric points of 5.2 and 6.1. The optimum pH for hydrolysis of bovine hemoglobin was about 3.5. Reverse-phase HPLC analysis of the incubation mixture of the enzyme with human plasma showed the presence of an active peptide on rat uterus muscle with the same retention time as the methionyl-lysyl-bradykinin (MLBK) standard. The specific activities were 2.91 micrograms MLBK equivalent mg-1.min-1 at pH 3.5 and 2.15 micrograms MLBK equivalent mg-1.min-1 at pH 6.0. All the enzymatic activities of this human kidney proteinase were inhibited by pepstatin A. Intramolecularly quenched fluorogenic substrates with amino acid sequences of human kininogen were used to determine the cleavage points. On the N-terminal sequences (Abz-Leu-Met-Lys-Arg-Pro-Eddnp and Abz-Met-Ile-Ser-Leu-Met-Lys-Arg-Pro-Eddnp) the cleavage occurred at the Leu-Met linkage, and on the C-terminal sequences (Abz-Phe-Arg-Ser-Ser-Arg-Eddnp and Abz-Phe-Arg-Ser-Ser-Arg-Gln-Eddnp) the cleavage occurred at the Arg-Ser linkage. Abz-Arg-Pro-Pro-Gly-Phe-Ser-Pro-Phe-Arg-Ser-Ser-Arg-Gln-Eddnp++ + was hydrolyzed by the renal acidic proteinase and yielded the peptide Abz-Arg-Pro-Pro-Gly-Phe-Ser-Pro-Phe-Arg (Abz-bradykinin). Kinectic parameters were determined using Abz-Met-Ile-Ser-Leu-Met-Lys-Arg-Pro-Eddnp (K(m) = 0.69 +/- 0.08 microM; Kcat = 0.052 +/- 0.0095 s-1; Kcat/K(m) = 0.075 +/- 0.005 microM-1.s-1) and Abz-Phe-Arg-Ser-Ser-Arg-Gln-Eddnp (K(m) = 1.56 +/- 0.16 microM; Kcat = 0.0048 +/- 0.0001 s-1; Kcat/K(m) = 0.003 +/- 0.0003 microM-1.s-1). Human liver cathepsin D had no activity on C-terminal sequences and human pepsin hydrolyzed them at the Ser-Ser bond. The results suggest that the renal acid proteinase is distinct from human pepsin and human liver cathepsin D and releases MLBK from human kininogen.