The 289 residue nuclear oncoprotein encoded by the adenovirus 5 Ela gene contains two peptide sequences that behave as nuclear localization signals (NLS). One signal, located at the carboxy terminus, is like many other known NLSs in that it consists of a short stretch of basic residues (KRPRP) and is constitutively active in cells. The second signal resides within an internal 45 residue region of E1a that contains few basic residues or sequences that resemble other known NLSs. Moreover, this internal signal functions in injected Xenopus oocytes, but not in transfected Xenopus A6 cells, suggesting that it could be regulated developmentally (Slavicek et al. 1989. J. Virol. 63:4047). In this study, we show that the activity of this signal is sensitive to ATP depletion in vivo, efficiently directs the import of a 50 kD fusion protein and can compete with the E1a carboxy-terminal NLS for nuclear import. In addition, we have delineated the precise amino acid residues that comprise the second E1a NLS, and have assessed its utilization during Xenopus embryogenesis. Using amino acid deletion and substitution analyses, we show that the signal consists of the sequence FV(X)7-20MXSLXYM(X)4MF. By expressing in Xenopus embryos a truncated E1a protein that contains only the second NLS and by monitoring its cytoplasmic/nuclear distribution during development with indirect immunofluorescence, we find that the second NLS is utilized up to the early neurula stage. In addition, there appears to be a hierarchy among the embryonic germ layers as to when the second NLS becomes nonfunctional. For this reason, we refer to this NLS as the developmentally regulated nuclear localization signal (drNLS). The implications of these findings for early development are discussed.

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