Insulin-like growth factor binding proteins (IGFBP) proteases have been proposed to be involved in changes of serum IGFBP pattern during pregnancy. IGFBP-4 and -5 are degraded specifically by proteases in pregnancy serum in vitro, whereas IGFBP-3 proteolytic activity was also detected in nonpregnancy serum. To identify and characterize IGFBP proteases, human pregnancy serum was fractionated by size exclusion chromatography revealing IGFBP-4 protease activities in fractions coeluting with proteins of approximately 600-kDa and 50- to 100-kDa molecular mass. In both fractions, a predominant 50-kDa gelatinase was found, suggesting that parts of the gelatinase activity might aggregate or are complexed with other proteins forming a higher molecular complex. Hydroxyapatite chromatography and chromatofocusing of the 50- to 100-kDa serum fraction showed that the IGFBP-4 protease and the 50-kDa gelatinase activity were copurified. When the 50-kDa gelatinase-containing band was excised from the polyacrylamide gel, it exhibited IGFBP-4 proteolytic activity, resulting in the formation of 17- and 10-kDa fragments. [125I] IGFBP substrate zymography combined with fragment blotting showed that the 1,10-phenanthroline-sensitive 50-kDa protease activity purified by chromatofocusing also cleaved IGFBP-3 and -5. Other proteases detected in pregnancy serum fractions with Mr estimates of 79-, 30-, and 22-kDa degraded IGFBP-3 and -5 but not IGFBP-4. [125I] IGFBP-5 substrate zymography revealed that the 30-kDa IGFBP protease was inhibited by serine protease inhibitors. Whereas 1,10-phenanthroline inhibited the IGFBP proteolytic activity in the solution assay, serine protease inhibitors failed to affect proteolysis, indicating the predominant contribution of the metalloproteinase to IGFBP proteolysis. Tissue inhibitors of matrix metalloproteinases-1 and -2 revealed weak or no inhibition of IGFBP-4 and -5 proteolytic activity, whereas a hydroxamic acid-based inhibitor, potentially inhibiting disintegrin metalloproteases, completely prevented the proteolysis of IGFBPs. Whereas no specific immunoreactivity of the 50-kDa protein with antimatrix metalloproteinase-1, -2, -3, -9, or -13 antibodies was observed, antidisintegrin domain-specific antibodies bound to the 50-kDa gelatinase. These studies provide the first direct biochemical evidence that human pregnancy serum contains a 50-kDa IGFBP protease with properties of a soluble disintegrin metalloproteinase that appears to be potentially involved in regulating IGF bioavailability for placental and fetal growth.