An azidophenacyl derivative of a chemically synthesized consensus signal peptide has been prepared. The peptide, when photoactivated in the presence of rough or high-salt-stripped microsomes from pancreas, leads to inhibition of their activity in cotranslational processing of secretory pre-proteins translated from their mRNA in vitro. The peptide binds specifically with high affinity to components in the microsomal membranes from pancreas and liver, and photoreaction of a radioactive form of the azidophenacyl derivative leads to covalent linkage to yield two closely related radiolabelled proteins of Mr about 45,000. These proteins are integrated into the membrane, with large 30,000-Mr domains embedded into the phospholipid bilayer to which the signal peptide binds. A smaller, endopeptidase-sensitive, domain is exposed on the cytoplasmic surface of the microsomal vesicles. The specificity and selectivity of the binding of azidophenacyl-derivatized consensus signal peptide was demonstrated by concentration-dependent inhibition of photolabelling by the ‘cold’ synthetic consensus signal peptide and by a natural internal signal sequence cleaved and isolated from ovalbumin. The properties of the labelled 45,000-Mr protein-signal peptide complexes, i.e. mass, pI, ease of dissociation from the membrane by detergent or salts and immunological properties, distinguish them from other proteins, e.g. subunits of signal recognition particle, docking protein and signal peptidase, already known to be involved in targetting and processing of nascent secretory proteins at the rough endoplasmic reticulum membrane. Although the 45,000-Mr signal peptide binding protein displays properties similar to those of the signal peptidase, a component of the endoplasmic reticulum, the azido-derivatized consensus signal peptide does not interact with it. It is proposed that the endoplasmic reticulum proteins with which the azidophenacyl-derivatized consensus signal peptide interacts to yield the 45,000-Mr adducts may act as receptors for signals in nascent secretory pre-proteins in transduction of changes in the endoplasmic reticulum which bring about translocation of secretory protein across the membrane.

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