A processing activity has been identified in higher plant chloroplasts that cleaves the precursor of the light-harvesting chlorophyll a/b-binding protein (LHCP). A wheat LHCP gene previously characterized (Lamppa, G.K., G. Morelli, and N.-H. Chua, 1985. Mol. Cell Biol. 5:1370-1378) was used to synthesize RNA and subsequently the labeled precursor polypeptide in vitro. Incubation of the LHCP precursors with a soluble extract from lysed chloroplasts, after removal of the thylakoids and membrane vesicles, resulted in the release of a single 25-kD peptide. In contrast, when the LHCP precursors were used in an import reaction with intact pea or wheat chloroplasts, two forms (25 and 26 kD) of mature LHCP were found. The peptide released by the processing activity in the organelle-free assay comigrated with the lower molecular mass form of mature LHCP produced during import. Properties of the processing activity suggest that it is an endopeptidase. Chloroplasts from both pea and wheat, two divergent higher plants, contain the processing enzyme, suggesting its physiological importance in LHCP assembly into the thylakoids. We discuss the implications of LHCP precursor processing by a soluble enzyme that may be in the stromal compartment.

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