One problem associated with the use of synthetic peptides as antigens in vivo is their susceptibility to inactivation by proteolytic degradation. A situation is described in which a serum protease, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), is actually responsible for the class I binding activity of a commonly used influenza antigen, nucleoprotein (NP)(147-158R-). This peptide has been reported to be a highly efficient class I antigen. Evidence is presented that demonstrates that the peptide is inactive until cleaved by ACE, which is a normal constituent of serum. The enzyme removes a COOH-terminal dipeptide resulting in the sequence NP(147-155), which is identical to the naturally processed peptide. Such extracellular processing of peptides and proteins may occur for a variety of antigens both in vitro and in vivo, and could have important implications for the design of proteolytically resistant vaccines.