Cysteine proteases play important roles in the pathogenesis of several parasitic infections and have been proposed as targets for the structure-based strategy of drug design. As a first step toward applying this strategy to design inhibitors as antiparasitic agents for leishmaniasis, we have isolated and sequenced the full-length clones of two cysteine protease genes from Leishmania major. One of the genes is structurally similar to the cathepsin L-like family and the other is similar to the cathepsin B-like family of cysteine proteases. The L. major cathepsin L-like sequence has a proregion that shares high sequence similarity with other cathepsin L sequences but not cathepsin B sequences and has a proline/threonine-rich C-terminal extension. The cathepsin L-like gene occurs in multiple copies, whereas there may be only one copy of the cathepsin B-like gene. Northern blot analyses show that both genes are expressed in the promastigote and amastigote stages, and pulse field gel electrophoresis revealed that the cathepsin L- and B-like genes are each found on two nonhomologous chromosomes. The L. major L-like amino acid sequence is 75% identical to the L. mexicana sequence, 74% identical to the L. pifanoi sequence, 47% identical with the Trypanosoma cruzi sequence, 47% identical with the T. congolense sequence, and 45% identical with the T. brucei sequence. L. major is one of two trypanosomatid species for which a cathepsin B-like gene has been identified and sequenced; its amino acid sequence is 82% identical to the one from L. mexicana. Tree inference based on distance and parsimony methods of kinetoplastid cathepsin L proteins yielded independent support for phylogenetic hypotheses inferred from analyses of ribosomal RNA genes. Because the cathepsin L locus has a high level of phylogenetic signal with respect to trypanosomatid taxa, this locus has great potential utility for investigating the evolutionary history of trypanosomatids and related organisms.