Cathepsin D (CTSD, EC 220.127.116.11) belongs to aspartic protease family, which is located in lysosomes and is distributed in diverse tissues and cells. CTSD has a wide variety of physiological functions, owing to its proteolytic activity in degradating proteins and peptides. In the current study, the full length cDNA of sea cucumber (Apostichopus japonicus) cathepsin D (AjCTSD) was firstly cloned, then the association between AjCTSD and sea cucumber autolysis was investigated. The full length cDNA of AjCTSD was 2896 bp, with an open reading frame (ORF) for 391 amino acids. AjCTSD was widely expressed in body wall, muscle and intestine; the expression level was the highest in intestine, followed by muscle and body wall. Compared to fresh tissues, AjCTSD expression levels were significantly increased in all examined autolytic tissues. The purified recombinant AjCTSD promoted the degradation of sea cucumber muscle. In conclusion, AjCTSD contributed to sea cucumber muscle autolysis.