||Significant advances have recently been made in our understanding of the mechanisms of activation of proteins that require processing. Often this involves endoproteolytic cleavage of precursor forms at basic residues, and is carried out by a group of serine endoproteinases, termed the proprotein convertases. In mammals, seven different convertases have been identified to date. These act in both the regulated secretory pathway for the processing of prohormones and proneuropeptides and in the constitutive secretory pathway, in which a variety of proproteins are activated endoproteolytically. The recently completed sequence of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans genome affords a unique opportunity to examine the entire proprotein convertase family in a multicellular organism. Here we review the nature of the family, emphasising the structural features, characteristic of the four nematode genes, that supply all of the necessary functions unique to this group of serine endoproteinases. Studies of the C. elegans genes not only provide important information about the evaluation of this gene family but should help to illuminate the roles of these proteins in mammalian systems. BioEssays 22:545-553, 2000.