The co-translational insertion of polypeptides into endoplasmic reticulum membranes may be initiated by cleavable amino-terminal insertion signals, as well as by permanent insertion signals located at the amino-terminus or in the interior of a polypeptide. To determine whether the location of an insertion signal within a polypeptide affects its function, possibly by affecting its capacity to achieve a loop disposition during its insertion into the membrane, we have investigated the functional properties of relocated insertion signals within chimeric polypeptides. An artificial gene encoding a polypeptide (THA-HA), consisting of the luminal domain of the influenza hemagglutinin preceded by its amino-terminal signal sequence and linked at its carboxy-terminus to an intact prehemagglutinin polypeptide, was constructed and expressed in in vitro translation systems containing microsomal membranes. As expected, the amino-terminal signal initiated co-translational insertion of the hybrid polypeptide into the membranes. The second, identical, interiorized signal, however, was not recognized by the signal peptidase and was translocated across the membrane. The failure of the interiorized signal to be cleaved may be attributed to the fact that it enters the membrane as part of a translocating polypeptide and therefore cannot achieve the loop configuration that is thought to be adopted by signals that initiate insertion. The finding that the interiorized signal did not halt translocation of downstream sequences, even though it contains a hydrophobic region and must enter the membrane in the same configuration as natural stop-transfer signals, indicates that the HA insertion signal lacks essential elements of halt transfer signals that makes the latter effective membrane-anchoring domains. When the amino-terminal insertion signal of the THA-HA chimera was deleted, the interior signal was incapable of mediating insertion, probably because of steric hindrance by the folded preceding portions of the chimera. Several chimeras were constructed in which the interiorized signal was preceded by polypeptide segments of various lengths. A signal preceded by a segment of 111 amino acids was also incapable of initiating insertion, but insertion took place normally when the segment preceding the signal was only 11-amino acids long.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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