A plastome (chloroplast genome) mutant of tobacco, lutescens-1, displays abnormal degradation of the chloroplast-encoded polypeptides which form the core complex of photosystem II (PSII). Two nuclear-encoded proteins (present in polymorphic forms), which normally function in the water oxidation process of PSII, accumulate as larger size-class polypeptides in mutant thylakoid membranes. These accumulated proteins are intermediate in size between the full-length primary protein synthesized in the cytoplasm and the proteolytically processed mature polypeptides. Trypsin treatment of unstacked mutant thylakoids and of inside-out vesicle (PSII-enriched) preparations indicated that the intermediate size forms were correctly localized on the inner surface of the thylakoid membrane, but not surface-exposed in the same way as the mature proteins. Only one of the intermediate size-class proteins could be extracted by salt washes. We interpret these data to be consistent with the idea that the two imported proteins that function in the water oxidation step of photosynthesis and are localized in the loculus (the space within the thylakoid vesicles) undergo two-step processing. The second step in proteolytic processing may be related to transport through a second membrane (the first transport step through the chloroplast envelope having been completed); this step may be arrested in the mutant due to the absence of the PSII core complex.

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