Steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR) is a nuclear encoded mitochondrial protein that enhances steroid synthesis by facilitating the transfer of cholesterol to the inner membranes of mitochondria in hormonally regulated steroidogenic cells. It is currently assumed that StAR activity commences before or during StAR import into the mitochondrial matrix. The present study was designed to demonstrate that, once imported and becoming physiologically irrelevant, exhaustive accumulation of StAR must be limited by a rapid degradation of the protein to prevent potential damage to the organelles. The use of uncouplers and manipulation of the interior mitochondrial pH in hormone-induced ovarian granulosa cells and StAR-expressing COS cells suggests that StAR degradation is biphasic and involves two classes of proteases. During phase I, which normally lasts for the first approximately 2 h following import, StAR is rapidly degraded by a protease, or proteases, that can be arrested by a nonclassical action of proteasome inhibitors such as MG132. StAR molecules that evade phase I are subjected to a second class of protease(s), which is slower and MG132 resistant. A third proteolytic entity was revealed in studies with C-28 StAR, a loss-of-function mutant of StAR. Upon initiation of its import, C-28 StAR dissipates the inner membrane potential and causes swelling of the mitochondria. Degradation of C-28 StAR, probably by an intermembrane space protease, is extremely rapid and MG132 insensitive. Collectively, this study defines StAR as the first naturally occurring mitochondrial protein that can serve as a substrate to probe multiple proteolytic activities in mammalian mitochondria.