Mouse macrophage elastase, a metalloproteinase secreted by inflammatory macrophages, catalyzed the limited proteolysis of selected subclasses of mouse immunoglobulins, including monomeric IgG2a, IgG3, and some forms of IgG2b. Mouse IgG1 was resistant to elastase degradation; however, human IgG1 was degraded. IgG3 in immune complexes was cleaved in a manner similar to that of monomeric IgG3. Degradation by macrophage elastase was limited to the heavy chain, resulting in products that did not compete for binding to the macrophage Fc receptor. Macrophage elastase usually produced a pepsin-like rather than a papain-like pattern of proteolysis, resulting in the release of F(ab')2 and Fc' subfragments. This degradation of IgG differed from the papain-like cleavage of IgG by granulocyte elastase. Macrophage elastase degraded papain-generated Fc fragments of IgG2a into multiple fragments. Therefore, macrophage elastase at concentrations found in culture medium has the potential to regulate some aspects of cellular events associated with immunoglobulins.