The study of a new proline-specific peptidase from bovine serum is presented. The enzyme readily cleaves the prolyl oligopeptidase (PO) substrate Z-Gly-Pro-MCA, liberating the fluorophore MCA, thus allowing quantification of enzyme activity. Unlike PO, however, this peptidase is completely insensitive to the PO-specific inhibitor Z-Pro-prolinal and has been designated Z-Pro-prolinal-insensitive Z-Gly-Pro-MCA-hydrolyzing peptidase (ZIP). The two peptidases were successfully separated from each other by phenyl Sepharose hydrophobic interaction chromatography and the subsequent purification focused on the isolation of ZIP from bovine serum. In addition to phenyl Sepharose, calcium phosphate cellulose and DEAE anion-exchange chromatography were employed in the purification, with an overall enzyme yield of 33% and a purification factor of 4023. SDS-PAGE and size-exclusion chromatography indicated a dimeric structure with a relative molecular mass of 174 kDa. The enzyme was stable over the pH range 2.5-10.0. Optimal activity was detected in the pH range 7.4-8.0. Isoelectric focusing revealed a pI of 5.68. Inhibition by AEBSF suggests the peptidase may be a serine protease and ZIP possibly contains a cysteine residue near the active site. alpha(2)M failed to inhibit activity, suggesting oligopeptidase specificity. HPLC analysis revealed a broad substrate specificity for proline-containing peptides. Kinetic analysis indicated that ZIP had a high affinity for Z-Gly-Pro-MCA with a K(m) of 54 microM deduced. Bovine serum ZIP exhibits biophysical characteristics both similar to and different from those of PO isolated from a number of sources and may serve an important physiological function in the degradation of bioactive oligopeptides.