Ethanol consumption slows down the rate of hepatic protein catabolism. The present study was conducted to determine whether ethanol consumption, given by voluntary (pair) feeding or by intragastric administration, affected the peptidase activities of the proteasome in rat liver. Rats were pair-fed liquid diets containing either ethanol or isocaloric maltose-dextrin. A separate group of animals was intragastrically infused continuously with similar liquid diets containing either ethanol or isocaloric dextrose. Crude liver homogenates and their cytosolic fractions were assayed for their chymotrypsin-like (Cht-L), trypsin-like (T-L), and peptidyl-glutamyl-peptide hydrolase (PGPH) activities, using specific fluorogenic peptides as substrates. Voluntary ethanol feeding did not affect the three peptidase activities of the proteasome. However, intragastric ethanol administration caused a 35% to 40% decline in the Cht-L and the T-L activities, but did not significantly change the PGPH activity. The lower peptidase activities in cytosol samples from intragastrically ethanol-fed rats were not restored to control levels by overnight dialysis, nor by the inclusion of low levels of sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) or of 0.5 mmol/L adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the proteasome assay mixture. Immunoblot analyses using anti-rat liver proteaseome exhibited equal levels of immunoreactive proteasome subunits in livers of control and ethanol-fed rats. Similar results were obtained when blots were probed with antibody made specifically against the proteasome subunit, LMP-7. The results indicate that intragastric, but not voluntary, ethanol consumption differentially affects the separate catalytic activities of the proteasome without affecting its steady-state levels. Such changes may be related to the degree of ethanol-induced oxidative stress.