The myelin-associated glycoprotein (MAG) is a transmembrane cell adhesion molecule participating in myelin formation and maintenance. Calcium-activated/-dependent proteolysis of myelin-associated glycoprotein by calpain and cathepsin L-like activities has already been detected in purified myelin fractions, producing a soluble fragment, called degraded (d)MAG, characterized by the loss of the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains. Here, we demonstrate and analyze dMAG formation from pure human brain myelin-associated glycoprotein. The activity never exhibited the high rate previously reported in human myelin fractions. Degradation is time-, temperature-, buffer- and structure-dependent, is inhibited at 4 degrees C and by denaturation of the sample, and is mediated by a trans-acting factor. There is no strict pH dependency of the proteolysis. Degradation was inhibited by excess aprotinin, but not by 1-10 micro g/mL aprotinin and was not eliminated by the use of an aprotinin-sepharose matrix during the purification. dMAG formation was not enhanced by calcium, nor inhibited by a wide variety of protease inhibitors, including specific calpain and cathepsin L inhibitors. Therefore, while cysteine proteases may be present in human myelin membrane fractions, they are not involved in dMAG formation from highly purified human brain myelin-associated glycoprotein preparations.