To determine if the number of targeting signals affects the transport of proteins into the nucleus, Xenopus oocytes were injected with colloidal gold particles, ranging in diameter from 20 to 280 A, that were coated with BSA cross-linked with synthetic peptides containing the SV-40 large T-antigen nuclear transport signal. Three BSA conjugate preparations were used; they had an average of 5, 8, and 11 signals per molecule of carrier protein. In addition, large T-antigen, which contains one signal per monomer, was used as a coating agent. The cells were fixed at various times after injection and subsequently analyzed by electron microscopy. Gold particles coated with proteins containing the SV-40 signal entered the nucleus through central channels located within the nuclear pores. Analysis of the intracellular distribution and size of the tracers that entered the nucleus indicated that the number of signals per molecule affect both the relative uptake of particles and the functional size of the channels available for translocation. In control experiments, gold particles coated with BSA or BSA conjugated with inactive peptides similar to the SV-40 transport signal were virtually excluded from the nucleus. Gold particles coated with nucleoplasmin, an endogenous karyophilic protein that contains five targeting signals per molecule, was transported through the nuclear pores more effectively than any of the BSA-peptide conjugates. Based on a correlation between the peri-envelope density of gold particles and their relative uptake, it is suggested that the differences in the activity of the two targeting signals is related to their binding affinity for envelope receptors. It was also determined, by performing coinjection experiments, that individual pores are capable of recognizing and transporting proteins that contain different nuclear targeting signals.

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