Using a recently developed PCR-based strategy, a cDNA encoding a novel mouse mast cell (MC) serine protease (MMCP-8) was isolated and characterized. The MMCP-8 mRNA contains an open reading frame of 247 amino acids (aa), divided into a signal sequence of 18 aa followed by a 2-aa activation peptide (Gly-Glu) and a mature protease of 227 aa. The mature protease has an M(r) of 25072, excluding post-translational modifications, a net positive charge of +12 and six potential N-glycosylation sites. MMCP-8 showed a high degree of homology with mouse granzyme B in the critical regions for determining substrate cleavage specificity, indicating that MMCP-8, similar to granzyme B, preferentially cleaves after Asp residues. A comparative analysis of the aa sequence of MMCP-8 with other hematopoietic serine proteases shows that it is more closely related to cathepsin G and T cell granzymes than to the MC chymases. We therefore conclude that MMCP-8 belongs to a novel subfamily of mouse MC proteases distinct from both the classical chymases and tryptases. Southern blot analysis of BALB/c genomic DNA indicated that only one MMCP-8 gene (or MMCP-8 like gene) is present in the mouse genome. Northern blot analysis of rodent hematopoietic cell lines revealed high levels of MMCP-8 mRNA in a mouse connective tissue MC-like tumor line. However, MMCP-8 mRNA could not be detected in mouse liver, intestine, lung or ears, indicating very low expression in normal tissues. Analysis of the expression of different MMCP in the tissues of Schistosoma mansoni-infected BALB/c mice showed a strong increase in MMCP-8 levels in the lungs but not in the intestines of infected animals, suggesting the presence of a novel subpopulation of MC in the lungs that expressed MMCP-8, either alone or in combination with MMCP-5 and carboxypeptidase A. The dramatic increase in MMCP-1 and MMCP-2 levels but not of MMCP-8 in the intestines of parasitized animals also shows that MMCP-8 is not expressed in mucosal MC in the mouse. This latter is in clear contrast to what has been observed in the rat where the MMCP-8 homologues, RMCP-8, -9 and -10, can be considered as true mucosal MC proteases.