Host tissue penetration, feeding and immune evasion by helminth parasites may be mediated by both mechanical processes and histolytic products released by the parasite. The aim of this study was to investigate potential histolytic products released during in vitro maintenance of exsheathed third (L3) and 4th larval stage (L4) and adult Ostertagia ostertagi. Therefore, the pH optima, substrate specificity, molecular size and inhibitor sensitivity of in vitro released (IVR) proteinases were analysed by spectrophotometry and substrate gel electrophoresis. It was shown that L3, L4 and adult IVR proteinases degrade a variety of protein substrates in a pH-dependent and stage-specific manner. At alkaline pH, gelatin, casein and fibrinogen were degraded by metallo- and serine proteinases. In contrast, mucin, fibrinogen, albumin and haemoglobin were degraded at acidic pH by aspartyl protease- and cathepsin L-like activity. At pH 3, the heavy chain of bovine IgG was completely degraded by an aspartyl proteinase secreted by all 3 parasitic stages. The specificity of the L3, L4 and adult Ostertagia ostertagi proteinases against the different substrates indicates variable functional requirements.