The neutral metalloprotease (Npr) of Streptomyces cacaoi is synthesized as a prepro-Npr precursor form consisting of a secretory signal peptide, a propeptide and the mature metalloprotease. The maturation of Npr occurs extracellularly via an autoproteolytic processing of the secreted pro-Npr. The integrity of the propeptide is essential for the formation of mature active Npr but not for its secretion. In this study we investigated whether the secretion and maturation of Npr require the integrity of its signal peptide region and mature protease domain. Five signal peptide mutants were generated, including the substitution mutations at the positively charged region (mutant 1R6LE), the central hydrophobic region (mutants GI19EL and G19N), the boundary of the hydrophobic core-cleavage region (mutant P30L) and at the residues adjacent to the signal peptidase cleavage site (mutant YA33SM). All these lesions delayed the export of Npr to the growth medium and also resulted in a 2-10-fold decrease in Npr export. The most severe effect was noted in mutants GI19EL and P30L. When these signal peptide mutations were fused separately with the propeptide lacking the Npr mature domain, the secretory defect on the propeptide was also observed, and this impairment was again more severely expressed in mutants GI19EL and P30L. Thus the Npr signal peptide seems to have more constraints on the hydrophobic core region and at the proline residue within the boundary of the hydrophobic core-cleavage site. Deletion mutations within the C-terminal mature protease domain that left its active site intact still blocked the proteolytic processing of mutant precursor forms of pro-Npr, although their secretions were unaffected. These results, together with our previous findings, strongly suggest that the signal peptide of Npr plays a pivotal role in the secretion of both Npr and the propeptide, but not in the maturation of Npr. On the contrary, the integrity of mature domain and propeptide is not critical for secretion of the Npr derivative but is essential for the formation of a functional Npr. Therefore the secretion and maturation of Npr are dependent on the integrity of the signal peptide, propeptide and mature protease domains, and the roles of these domains in this regard are functionally distinct.