Pronase E ('pronase') is one of the proteolytic enzymes that are used in preparative procedures such as cell isolation and to soften the sheath of invertebrate ganglia. Although several effects of proteolytic enzymes on the physiology of non-neuronal tissues have been described, the effects of these enzymes on central neurons have received little attention. We examined the effects of bath-applied pronase on neurons in the Lymnaea central nervous system and in vitro. Pronase caused action potential broadening in neurons that exhibit a shoulder on the repolarization phase of their action potentials. This effect of pronase was accompanied by, although unrelated to, a depolarization and decrease in action potential interval. Some, but not all, effects of pronase in the central nervous system were reversible. For example, the decreases in membrane potential and action potential interval were both reversed after approximately 1 h of washing with saline. However, the effect of pronase on the action potential duration was not reversed after a period of 90 min. The modulation of action potential width prompted us to examine Ca2+ currents. Exposure to pronase resulted in an increase in both peak and late high voltage-activated Ca2+ currents in isolated neurons. Pronase neither changed the inactivation rate nor caused a shift in the current-voltage relationship of the current. The changes in action potential duration could be prevented by application of 0.1 mM Cd2+, indicating that the action potential broadening caused by pronase depends on Ca2+ influx. This is the first systematic study of the acute and direct actions of pronase on Ca2+ currents and cell properties both in the CNS and in vitro.