To identify antigens that could potentially be developed as vaccines against Fasciola gigantica, somatic antigens were analyzed by immunoprecipitation using pooled sera from rats infected with F. gigantica metacercariae. A prominent antigen of the newly excysted juveniles (NEJ), cathepsin B3 protease (FgCatB3), was identified by N-terminal sequencing and PCR screening of a cDNA library. Recombinant FgCatB3 (rFgCatB3) was expressed in Pichia pastoris, and shown to catalyse the digestion of gelatin, the fluorometric substrate Z-Phe-Arg-AMC and native fibronectin, suggesting that this enzyme may be involved in digesting host connective tissues during the fluke's penetration and migration in the host. Rabbit polyclonal sera against rFgCatB3 was produced and used to determine the distribution of the native cathepsin B3 protease in various developmental stages of F. gigantica. By Western blotting, cathepsin B3 was detected in the whole body (WB) extract of metacercariae and NEJ but not in 4-week-old juveniles or adult parasites which confirmed the stage-specific characteristics of cathepsin B3. Immunolocalization of cathepsin B3 protease in each parasite stage showed that high levels of FgCatB3 were present in the caecal epithelium of the metacercariae and NEJ. The differential distribution of FgCatB3 in the different life cycle stages suggests that this protease is functionally important for the juvenile stage of F. gigantica.