Protease Nexin-1, a 43-kDa glycoprotein, is a major physiological thrombin inhibitor involved in the modulation of nerve cell plasticity. Recombinant rat Protease Nexin-1 (rPN-1) was efficiently produced in Escherichia coli using a T7 RNA polymerase based expression system and purified by heparin-sepharose affinity chromatography yielding 3 mg of protein per liter of cell culture. The purity and chemical identity of rPN-1 were assessed by SDS-PAGE, Reverse Phase- High Performance Liquid Chromatography, mass spectrometry and two-dimensional-gel electrophoresis. Conformational analysis by circular dichroism and fluorescence spectroscopy revealed the presence of mixed alpha/beta secondary structure and the prevailing localization of Trp-residues in rather polar environments. Fluorescence titration of rPN-1 with heparin indicated that rPN-1 binds heparin with high affinity. Furthermore, the formation of a SDS-stable 1:1 thrombin-rPN-1 complex, monitored by SDS-PAGE, confirmed the native-like structure of rPN-1. Finally, the cellular effects of rPN-1, such as its ability to promote neurite outgrowth in neuroblastoma cells, were found to be very similar to those elicited by natural PN-1. Altogether, our results demonstrate that glycosylation does not alter neither structure nor function of PN-1 and that E. coli is a suitable expression system for obtaining milligram quantities of pure and fully active rPN-1 for structural and functional studies.