Nine potential caspase counterparts, designated metacaspases, were identified in the Arabidopsis thaliana genome. Sequence analysis revealed two types of metacaspases, one with (type I) and one without (type II) a proline- or glutamine-rich N-terminal extension, possibly representing a prodomain. Production of recombinant Arabidopsis type II metacaspases in Escherichia coli resulted in cysteine-dependent autocatalytic processing of the proform into large and small subunits, in analogy to animal caspases. A detailed biochemical characterization with a broad range of synthetic oligopeptides and several protease inhibitors of purified recombinant proteins of both metacaspase 4 and 9 showed that both metacaspases are arginine/lysine-specific cysteine proteases and did not cleave caspase-specific synthetic substrates. These findings suggest that type II metacaspases are not directly responsible for earlier reported caspase-like activities in plants.