Previous work demonstrated that human furin is a predominantly Golgi membrane-localized endoprotease that can efficiently process precursor proteins at paired basic residues (-Lys-Arg- or -Arg-Arg-) in transfected cells. Anion-exchange chromatography of culture supernatant from cells expressing a soluble truncated form of human furin resulted in a greatly enriched preparation of the endoprotease (approximately 70% pure as determined by protein staining). Enzymatic studies show that furin is a calcium-dependent (K0.5 = 200 microM) serine endoprotease which has greater than 50% of maximal activity between pH 6.0 and 8.5. The inhibitor sensitivity of furin suggests that it is similar to, yet distinct from, other calcium-dependent proteases. Evidence that furin may require a P4 Arg in fluorogenic peptide substrates suggested that this enzyme might cleave the protective antigen (PA) component of anthrax toxin at the sequence -Arg-Lys-Lys-Arg-. Indeed, PA was cleaved by purified furin at the proposed consensus site (-Arg-X-Lys/Arg-Arg decreases-) at a rate (8 mumol/min/mg total protein) 400-fold higher than that observed with synthetic peptides. In addition, the processing of mutant PA molecules with altered cleavage sites suggests that furin-catalyzed endoproteolysis minimally requires an -Arg-X-X-Arg- recognition sequence for efficient cleavage. Together, these results support the hypothesis that furin processes protein precursors containing this cleavage site motif in the exocytic pathway and in addition, raises the possibility that the enzyme also cleaves extracellular substrates, including PA.