Because of its unusual length, nascent thyroglobulin (Tg) requires a long time after translocation into the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) to assume its mature tertiary structure. Thus, Tg is an ideal molecule for the study of protein folding and export from the ER, and is an excellent potential substrate for molecular chaperones. During the first 15 min after biosynthesis, Tg is found in transient aggregates with and without interchain disulfide bonds, which precede the formation of free monomers (and ultimately dimers) within the ER. By immunoprecipitation, newly synthesized Tg was associated with the binding protein (BiP); association was maximal at the earliest chase times. Much of the Tg released from BiP by the addition of Mg-ATP was found in aggregates containing interchain disulfide bonds; other BiP-associated Tg represented non-covalent aggregates and unfolded free monomers. Importantly, the immediate precursor to Tg dimer was a compact monomer which did not associate with BiP. The average stoichiometry of BiP/Tg interaction involved nearly 10 BiP molecules per Tg molecule. Cycloheximide was used to reduced the ER concentration of Tg relative to chaperones, with subsequent removal of the drug in order to rapidly restore Tg synthesis. After this treatment, nascent Tg aggregates were no longer detectable. The data suggest a model of folding of exportable proteins in which nascent polypeptides immediately upon translocation into the ER interact with BiP. Early interaction with BiP may help in presenting nascent polypeptides to other helper molecules that catalyze folding, thereby preventing aggregation or driving aggregate dissolution in the ER.

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