Proteolytic cleavage of von Willebrand factor (vWF) takes place in the circulating blood of healthy subjects and is increased in some patients with von Willebrand disease type 2A. The hemostatically active large vWF multimers are degraded to smaller less active forms. It has been suggested that the polypeptide subunit of vWF is cleaved at the peptide bond 842Tyr-843Met. We purified (approximately 10,000-fold) from human plasma a vWF-degrading protease, using chelating Sepharose, hydrophobic interaction chromatography, and gel filtration. The enzyme was found to be virtually absent in the platelet lysates obtained by repeated freezing and thawing. The proteolytic activity was associated with a high molecular weight protein (approximately 300 kD) as judged by gel filtration and sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. vWF was resistant against the protease in a neutral buffer at physiological ionic strength but became degraded at low salt concentration or in the presence of 1 mol/L urea. No degradation of human fibrinogen, bovine serum albumin, of calf skin collagen by the purified protease was noted under the same experimental conditions. Proteolytic activity showed a pH optimum at 8 to 9 and was strongly inhibited by chelating agents, whereas only slow inhibition was observed with N-ethylmaleimide. There was no inhibition by iodoacetamide, leupeptin, or serine protease inhibitors. The best peptidyl diazomethyl ketone inhibitor was Z-Phe-Phe-CHN2. Activation by divalent metal ions was found to increase in the following order: Zn2+ approximately Cu2+ approximately CD2+ approximately Ni2+ approximately Co2+ <Mn2+ <Mg2+ <Ca2+ <Sr2+ <Ba2+. The observed properties of the vWF- degrading enzyme differ from those of all other hitherto described proteases. Purified vWF was incubated with the protease, and the degraded material subjected to sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis after disulfide reduction. The size, amino acid composition, and amino terminal sequence of the reduced fragments confirmed that the peptide bond 842Tyr-843Met had been cleaved, ie, the same bond that has been proposed to be cleaved in vivo.