We have developed an assay to monitor in vitro the posttranslational assembly of the chloroplast protein, ribulose-1,5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase (RuBisCO). Most of the newly synthesized 55-kD catalytic ("large") subunits of this enzyme occur in a 29S complex together with 60- and 61-kD "binding" proteins. When the 29S complex is incubated with ATP and MgCl2 it dissociates into subunits, and the formerly bound large subunits now sediment at 7S (still faster than expected for a monomer). Upon incubation at 24 degrees C, these large subunits assemble into RuBisCO. The minority of newly made large subunits which are not bound to the 29S complex also sediment at 7S. When endogenous ATP was removed by addition of hexokinase and glucose, the dissociation of the 29S complex was inhibited. Nevertheless, the 7S large subunits assembled into RuBisCO, and did so to a greater extent than in controls retaining endogenous ATP. Thus the 7S large subunits are also assembly competent, at least when ATP is removed. Apparently, in chloroplast extracts, ATP can have a dual effect on the assembly of RuBisCO: on the one hand, even at low concentrations it can inhibit incorporation of 7S large subunits RuBisCO; on the other hand, at higher concentrations it can lead to substantial buildup of the 7S large subunit pool by causing dissociation of the 29S complex, and stimulate overall assembly. At both high and zero concentrations of ATP, however, antibody to the binding protein inhibited the assembly of endogenous large subunits into RuBisCO. Thus it appears that all assembly-competent large subunits are associated with the binding protein, either in the 7S complex or in the 29S complex. The involvement of the binding protein in RuBisCO assembly may represent the first example of non-autonomous protein assembly in higher plants and may pose problems for the genetic engineering of RuBisCO from these organisms.

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