Pseudomonas aeruginosa elastase and the LasA protease are synthesized as preproenzymes with long amino-terminal propeptides. The elastase propeptide is cleaved autocatalytically in the periplasm to form a transient, inactive elastase-propeptide complex. In contrast, the processing of proLasA does not involve autoproteolysis. In this study, we analyzed short-term P. aeruginosa cultures under conditions that minimize proteolysis and found that an elastase-propeptide complex is secreted, and then the propeptide is degraded extracellularly, apparently by elastase itself. LasA protease, on the other hand, was found to be secreted in its unprocessed 42-kDa proenzyme form. The processing of proLasA occurred extracellularly, and it involved the transient appearance of a 28-kDa intermediate and the respective 14-kDa LasA propeptide fragment. The processing of proLasA in P. aeruginosa strain FRD740, which does not express elastase, also proceeded via the 28-kDa intermediate, but the rate of processing was greatly reduced. This low rate of proLasA processing was further reduced when the activity of a secreted lysine- specific protease was blocked. Purified secreted proteases of P. aeruginosa (i.e. elastase, the lysine-specific protease, and alkaline proteinase) converted proLasA to the active enzyme. Processing by elastase and the lysine-specific enzyme, but not by alkaline proteinase, proceeded via the 28- kDa intermediate, and both were far more effective than alkaline proteinase in converting proLasA to the mature enzyme. We conclude that LasA protease and elastase are secreted with their propeptides, which are then degraded by secreted proteases of P. aeruginosa. In addition to their other functions, the propeptides may play a role in targeting their respective enzymes across the outer membrane.