The structure and processing of low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors in wild-type and LDL receptor-deficient mutant Chinese hamster ovary cells was examined using polyclonal anti-receptor antibodies. As previously reported for human LDL receptors, the LDL receptors in wild-type Chinese hamster ovary cells were synthesized as precursors which were extensively processed by glycosylation to a mature form. In the course of normal receptor turnover, an apparently unglycosylated portion of the cysteine-rich N-terminal LDL binding domain of the receptor is proteolytically removed. The LDL receptor-deficient mutants fall into four complementation groups, ldlA, ldlB, ldlC, and ldlD; results of the analysis of ldlB, ldlC, and ldlD mutants are described in the accompanying paper (Kingsley, D. M., K. F. Kozarsky, M. Segal, and M. Krieger, 1986, J. Cell. Biol, 102:1576-1585). Analysis of ldlA cells has identified three classes of mutant alleles at the ldlA locus: null alleles, alleles that code for normally processed receptors that cannot bind LDL, and alleles that code for abnormally processed receptors. The abnormally processed receptors were continually converted to novel unstable intracellular intermediates. We also identified a compound-heterozygous mutant and a heterozygous revertant which indicate that the ldlA locus is diploid. In conjunction with other genetic and biochemical data, the finding of multiple mutant forms of the LDL receptor in ldlA mutants, some of which appeared together in the same cell, confirm that the ldlA locus is the structural gene for the LDL receptor.

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