The cleavage of recombinant mouse nidogen in its native form was examined with granule-stored proteases (leucocyte elastase, mast-cell chymase), blood proteases (thrombin, plasmin, kallikrein), matrix metalloproteinases (stromelysin, matrilysin, collagenases) and, for comparison, with trypsin and the endoproteinase Glu-C. More than 50 major cleavage sites were identified by Edman degradation of several large fragments and smaller peptides. The data show an almost exclusive localization of protease-sensitive sites to the flexible segment, connecting the N-terminal globular domains G1 and G2, and within the C-terminal, laminin-binding domain G3. Domains G1, G2 and the rod-like segment were much more stable against proteolysis. Kinetic analysis indicated a fast cleavage of several different sites in the link region followed by destruction of G3 but this was to some extent variable depending on the particular protease. Leucocyte elastase was identified as the most active protease in the cleavage of nidogen whilst stromelysin, matrilysin, plasmin and kallikrein were of distinctly lower activity. No cleavage could be detected with interstitial collagenase and gelatinase A. The peptide analyses also allowed the location of two disulfide bridges within the G3 domain. Complex formation between nidogen and laminin fragments caused some protection against cleavage by thrombin, leucocyte elastase and stromelysin particularly in domain G3. The data indicate a relatively uniform cleavage pattern of nidogen which may be relevant in the context of protein/ligand-binding activities associated with domains G2 and G3. The proteolytic processes involved in remodelling and the cellular penetration of basement membranes could therefore be essential for the modulation of the mediator function of nidogen.