Recent studies have revealed that 'human retrovirus-5' sequences found in human samples belong to a rabbit endogenous retrovirus family named RERV-H. A part of the gag-pro region of the RERV-H genome was amplified by PCR from DNA in human samples and several forms of RERV-H protease were expressed in bacteria. The RERV-H protease was able to cleave itself from a precursor protein and was also able to cleave the RERV-H Gag polyprotein precursor in vitro whereas a form of the protease with a mutation engineered into the active site was inactive. Potential N- and C-terminal autocleavage sites were characterized. The RERV-H protease was sensitive to pepstatin A, showing it to be an aspartic protease. Moreover, it was strongly inhibited by PYVPheStaAMT, a pseudopeptide inhibitor specific for Mason-Pfizer monkey virus and avian myeloblastosis-associated virus. A structural model of the RERV-H protease was constructed that, together with the activity data, confirms that this is a retroviral aspartic protease.