Proteolytic enzyme, also called protease, proteinase, or peptidase, any of a group of enzymes that break the long chainlike molecules of proteins into shorter fragments (peptides) and eventually into their components, amino acids. Proteolytic enzymes are present in bacteria, archaea, certain types of algae, some viruses, and plants; they are most abundant, however, in animals.
There are different types of proteolytic enzymes, which are classified according to sites at which they catalyze the cleavage of proteins. The two major groups are the exopeptidases, which target the terminal ends of proteins, and the endopeptidases, which target sites within proteins. Endopeptidases employ various catalytic mechanisms; within this group are the aspartic endopeptidases, cysteine endopeptidases, glutamic endopeptidases, metalloendopeptidases, serine endopeptidases, and threonine endopeptidases. The term oligopeptidase is reserved for those enzymes that act specifically on peptides.