A polyprotein cleavage assay has been developed to assay the proteolytic activities in vitro of the 2A proteinases encoded by poliovirus and human rhinovirus 14, which are representative members of the Enterovirus and Rhinovirus genera of picornaviruses, respectively. The elastase-specific substrate-based inhibitors elastatinal and methoxysuccinyl-Ala-Ala-Pro-Val-chloromethylketone (MPCMK) inhibited both 2A proteinases in vitro. The electrophoretic mobilities of both 2A proteinases were reduced upon incubation with elastatinal, whereas the mobility of a Cys-109-->Ala poliovirus 2Apro mutant was unchanged, an observation suggesting that this inhibitor may have formed a covalent bond with the active-site Cys-109 nucleophile. Iodoacetamide, calpain inhibitor 1, and antipain inhibited poliovirus 2Apro. MPCMK caused a reduction in the yields of the enteroviruses poliovirus type 1 and coxsackievirus A21 and of human rhinovirus 2 in infected HeLa cells but did not affect the growth of encephalomyocarditis virus, a picornavirus of the Cardiovirus genus. MPCMK abrogated the shutoff of host cell protein synthesis that is induced by enterovirus and rhinovirus infection and reduced the synthesis of virus-encoded polypeptides in infected cells. These results indicate that the determinants of substrate recognition by 2A proteinases resemble those of pancreatic and leukocyte elastases. These results may be relevant to the development of broad-range chemotherapeutic agents against entero- and rhinoviruses.