Epithelial cell-derived neutrophil-activating protein-78 (ENA-78) is a potent stimulator of neutrophils, inducing a variety of biological responses such as chemotaxis, enzyme release, up-regulation of surface receptors, and intracellular calcium mobilization. Proteolysis of ENA-78 with cathepsin G and chymotrypsin yielded a time-dependent increase in elastase-releasing activity, predicting the formation of truncation products with higher potency than native ENA-78. To investigate the biological implications of progressive truncation of ENA-78, the N-terminal variants ENA(5-78), ENA(9-78), and ENA(10-78) were cloned and expressed in E. coli. When tested in the neutrophil elastase release assay, the variants ENA(5-78) and ENA(9-78) had a 2-3-fold higher potency than full-length ENA-78, while ENA(10-78) was 3-fold less potent. In the chemotaxis assay, the variant ENA(5-78) exhibited an 8-fold and ENA(9-78) a 2-fold higher potency than native ENA-78. ENA(10-78), conversely, was 10-fold less potent, but reached a comparable efficacy to ENA-78 at 10(-)7 M concentration. In summary, the rank order in potency with respect to elastase release was ENA(9-78) > ENA(5-78) > ENA-78 > ENA(10-78), while for chemotaxis it was ENA(5-78) > ENA(9-78) > ENA-78 > ENA(10-78). Variant ENA(5-78) had a higher overall potency and efficiency for chemotaxis than interleukin-8 (IL-8), while ENA(9-78) exhibited a higher efficiency at concentrations of 1-100 nM. The fact that neutrophil cathepsin G produces the stable ENA(9-78) variant in vitro strongly suggests a role for this N-terminal proteolysis during inflammatory processes in vivo.