Recombinant human prostromelysin was purified in a single step using Procion Red-Sepharose chromatography. The purified prostromelysin was self-activated to high-Mr (45,000) and low-Mr (28,000) forms by incubation at 55 degrees C without the addition of extraneous activators. The two forms of stromelysin were subsequently separated, again using Procion Red-Sepharose. Both of the heat-activated recombinant forms demonstrated similar specific activities (for the macromolecular substrates casein, gelatin, elastin, proteoglycan and type IV collagen) when compared with either heat- or trypsin-activated natural stromelysin. The heat-activated recombinant stromelysins both showed similar abilities to potentiate activation of human procollagenase when compared with trypsin-activated natural stromelysin.