Lysozyme has been shown to be associated with damaged elastic fibers in many tissues and organs. To better characterize this interaction, binding of lysozyme to elastin was studied using solution-based binding assays. Under physiologic conditions, radiolabeled lysozyme bound specifically to elastin in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Binding was reversible and was inhibited by unlabeled human and hen lysozyme but not by other proteins. Lysozyme had no elastolytic activity as assessed by a standard tritium-release assay, but, importantly, prevented the proteolytic degradation of elastin by human leukocyte elastase, pancreatic elastase, thermolysin, and Pseudomonas elastase. A striking feature of lysozyme's anti-elastase activity was that it did not function in the classical sense of inhibiting directly the enzymatic activity of the protease. Instead, by binding to elastin, lysozyme prevented the protease from interacting with the elastin substrate in ways that normally favor proteolysis. These results show that lysozyme binds to the elastin component of elastic fibers and that this interaction has important biological consequences for elastic fiber degradation. By preventing degradation of elastin, lysozyme can function as an important natural inhibitor that exerts a protective effect on elastic fibers at sites of tissue injury.