Carboxypeptidase A (CP-A) and monoclonal antibody KS1/4 directed against an antigen on human lung adenocarcinoma cells (UCLA-P3) were derivatized by treatment with succinimidyl 4-(N-maleimidomethyl)cyclohexane-1-carboxylate and N-succinimidyl 3-(2-pyridyldithio)propionate, respectively. The derivatized proteins were reacted to produce thioether-linked enzyme-antibody conjugates. Sequential HPLC size-exclusion and DEAE chromatography separated the conjugate preparation from unreacted enzyme and antibody. On the basis of SDS-PAGE analysis and measurement of catalytic activity, the preparation contained approximately equal amounts of 1:1 and 2:1 (enzyme:antibody) conjugates; binding activity of the conjugate (1.8 x 10(5) molecules/cell) was similar to that of unreacted antibody. In vitro cytotoxicity studies with UCLA-P3 cells demonstrated the ability of cell-bound conjugate to convert the prodrug methotrexate-alpha-alanine (MTX-Ala) to methotrexate (MTX). In the absence of conjugate, ID50 values for MTX-Ala and MTX were 8.9 x 10(-6) and 5.2 x 10(-8) M, respectively. ID50 for the prodrug improved to 1.5 x 10(-6) M with cells containing bound conjugate. This potentiation of MTX-Ala cytotoxicity by conjugate-bound CP-A, which was at least 30-fold greater than that produced by a comparable amount of free enzyme, is attributed to enhanced effectiveness of MTX generated at the cell surface as opposed to the surrounding medium. Examination of the time course of cytotoxicity over a 96-h period showed that the conjugate-prodrug combination (at 2.5 x 10(-6) M) was nearly as effective as MTX in preventing cell replication. These results demonstrate the chemotherapeutic potential of carboxypeptidase-monoclonal antibody conjugates used in conjunction with MTX peptide prodrugs.