We have investigated the mechanism which prevents reinitiation of DNA replication within a single cell cycle by exploiting the observation that intact G2 HeLa nuclei do not replicate in Xenopus egg extract, unless their nuclear membranes are first permeabilized (Leno et al., 1992). We have asked if nuclear membrane permeabilization allows escape of a negative inhibitor from the replicated nucleus or entry of a positive activator as proposed in the licensing factor hypothesis of Blow and Laskey (1988). We have distinguished these possibilities by repairing permeabilized nuclear membranes after allowing soluble factors to escape. Membrane repair of G2 nuclei reverses the effects of permeabilization arguing that escape of diffusible inhibitors is not sufficient to allow replication, but that entry of diffusible activators is required. Membrane repair has no significant effect on G1 nuclei. Pre-incubation of permeable G2 nuclei in the soluble fraction of egg extract before membrane repair allows semiconservative DNA replication of these nuclei when incubated in complete extract. Addition of the same fraction after membrane repair has no effect. Our results provide direct evidence for a positively acting "licensing" activity which is excluded form the interphase nucleus by the nuclear membrane. Nuclear membrane permeabilization and repair can be used as an assay for licensing activity which could lead to its purification and subsequent analysis of its action within the nucleus.

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