The closely related zinc metalloendopeptidases EC 188.8.131.52 (EP24.15) and EC 184.108.40.206 (EP24.16) cleave many common substrates, including bradykinin (BK). As such, there are few substrate-based inhibitors which are sufficiently selective to distinguish their activities. We have used BK analogues with either alanine or beta-amino acid (containing an additional carbon within the peptide backbone) substitutions to elucidate subtle differences in substrate specificity between the enzymes. The cleavage of the analogues by recombinant EP24.15 and EP24.16 was assessed, as well as their ability to inhibit the two enzymes. Alanine-substituted analogues were generally better substrates than BK itself, although differences between the peptidases were observed. Similarly, substitution of the four N-terminal residues with beta-glycine enhanced cleavage in some cases, but not others. beta-Glycine substitution at or near the scissile bond (Phe5-Ser6) completely prevented cleavage by either enzyme: interestingly, these analogues still acted as inhibitors, although with very different affinities for the two enzymes. Also of interest, beta-Gly8-BK was neither a substrate nor an inhibitor of EP24.15, yet could still interact with EP24.16. Finally, while both enzymes could be similarly inhibited by the D-stereoisomer of beta-C3-Phe5-BK (IC50 approximately 20 microM, compared to 8 microM for BK), EP24.16 was relatively insensitive to the L-isomer (IC50 12 approximately microM for EP24.15, >40 microM for EP24.16). These studies indicate subtle differences in substrate specificity between EP24.15 and EP24.16, and suggest that beta-amino acid analogues may be useful as templates for the design of selective inhibitors.