Several proteases are secreted by Pseudomonas aeruginosa including elastase, an abundantly secreted neutral zinc-metalloprotease. Elastase (encoded by lasB) is first synthesized with a relatively large propeptide (18 kDa) domain. Here, we present evidence that this propeptide functions as an intramolecular chaperone (IMC) essential for proper maturation of elastase into a hydrolytically active enzyme. An altered elastase allele (lasB6) that encoded an elastase precursor with a precise propeptide deletion was expressed in Escherichia coli, and disrupted cells contained only inactive elastase. However, co-expression of an allele (lasB7) expressing the propeptide as an independent, non-covalently linked protein rescued about one-third of the hydrolytic activity when compared with that obtained with wild-type lasB. Thus, the propeptide was essential for elastase activity and so defined elastase as an IMC-containing protease. We examined the possibility that the propeptide of elastase also plays a role in the localization of the mature protein past the outer bacterial membrane. Expression of lasB6 in P. aeruginosa (lasB delta) in the absence of the propeptide resulted in production of inactive elastase that accumulated within the cell and was not secreted to the culture medium. When lasB7 co-expressed the non-covalently linked propeptide in the same cell with lasB6, efficient secretion was restored and active elastase was then found in the supernatant. Thus, the propeptide was needed for secretion of the mature protein as well as enzymatic activity. This chaperone-like activity of the propeptide appears to involve a direct interaction between the mature and propeptide sequences, and evidence for this was obtained by demonstrating that the non-covalently attached 18 kDa propeptide was co-precipitated with elastase using elastase antibodies. These results are consistent with a hypothesis that the propeptide domain acts as an IMC to control both enzymatic activity and competence for secretion.