Peptides are formed in the rumen as the result of microbial proteinase activity. The predominant type of activity is cysteine proteinase, but others, such as serine proteinases, are also present. Many species of protozoa, bacteria and fungi are involved in proteolysis; large animal-to-animal variability is found when proteinase activities in different animals are compared. The peptides formed from proteolysis are broken down to amino acids by peptidases. Different peptides are broken down at different rates, depending on their chemical composition and particularly their N-terminal structure. Indeed, chemical addition to the N-terminus of small peptides, such as by acetylation, causes the peptides to become stable to breakdown by the rumen microbial population; the microorganisms do not appear to adapt to hydrolyse acetylated peptides even after several weeks exposure to dietary acetylated peptides, and the amino acids present in acetylated peptides are absorbed from the small intestine. The amino acids present in some acetylated peptides remain available in nutritional trials with rats, but the nutritive value of the whole amino acid mixture is decreased by acetylation. The genus Prevotella is responsible for most of the catabolic peptidase activity in the rumen, via its dipeptidyl peptidase activities, which release dipeptides rather than free amino acids from the N-terminus of oligopeptides. Studies with dipeptidyl peptidase mutants of Prevotella suggest that it may be possible to slow the rate of peptide hydrolysis by the mixed rumen microbial population by inhibiting dipeptidyl peptidase activity of Prevotella or the rate of peptide uptake by this genus. Peptides and amino acids also stimulate the growth of rumen microorganisms, and are necessary for optimal growth rates of many species growing on rapidly fermented substrates; in rich medium, most bacteria use pre-formed amino acids for more than 90% of their amino acid requirements. Cellulolytic species are exceptional in this respect, but they still incorporate about half of their cell N from pre-formed amino acids in rich medium. However, the extent to which bacteria use ammonia vs. peptides and amino acids for protein synthesis also depends on the concentrations of each, such that preformed amino acids and peptides are probably used to a much lesser extent in vivo than many in vitro experiments might suggest.