1 House dust mite (HDM) allergens with cysteine and serine proteinase activity are risk factors for allergic sensitization and asthma. A simple method to fractionate proteinase activity from HDM faecal pellets into cysteine and serine class activity is described.2 Both proteinase fractions increased the permeability of epithelial cell monolayers. The effects of the serine proteinase fraction were inhibited by 4-(2-aminoethyl)-benzenesulphonyl fluoride hydrochloride (AEBSF) and soybean trypsin inhibitor (SBTI). The effects of the cysteine proteinase fraction could be inhibited by E-64. No reciprocity of action was found.3 Treatment of epithelial monolayers with either proteinase fraction caused breakdown of tight junctions (TJs). AEBSF inhibited TJ breakdown caused by the serine proteinase fraction, whereas E-64 inhibited the cysteine proteinase fraction.4 Agarose gel electrophoresis revealed that the proteinases induced DNA cleavage which was inhibited by the matrix metalloproteinase inhibitor BB-250. Compound E-64 inhibited DNA fragmentation caused by the cysteine proteinase fraction, but was without effect on the serine proteinase fraction. Staining of proteinase-treated cells with annexin V (AV) and propidium iodide (PI) revealed a diversity of cellular responses. Some cells stained only with AV indicating early apoptosis, whilst others were dead and stained with both AV and PI.5 HDM proteinases exert profound effects on epithelial cells which will promote allergic sensitization; namely disruption of intercellular adhesion, increased paracellular permeability and initiation of cell death. Attenuation of these actions by proteinase inhibitors leads to the conclusion that compounds designed to be selective for the HDM enzymes may represent a novel therapy for asthma.