Tobacco vein mottling virus (TVMV) belongs to the potyviridae that consists of about 200 plant viruses. Potyviruses have RNA genomes of approximately 10,000 bases from which a single polyprotein is expressed from each virus upon infection. The NIa proteinase is known to process the polyprotein at seven distinct junctions between proteins. Kinetic constants were determined for the reactions of the recombinant TVMV NIa protease (27 kDa) with synthetic oligopeptides containing the sequences for the cleavage sites. For optimum activity, the substrate needs to have six amino acids (P6-P1) in the amino region and four (P1'-P4') in the carboxy region, including four conserved amino acids (V-R-F-Q) in P4-P1 positions. Mutation of any of four conserved amino acids to Gly made the substrate inert to the enzyme. Among the substrates, the oligopeptides containing the sequences for junctions, P3-6K1, NIa (VPg-Pro), and NIa-NIb were not processed by the NIa protease. Those junctions have Glu at P3, Glu at P1, and Thr at P2. The implications of high substrate specificity and size dependence in polyprotein processing and viral replication are discussed.