A variety of cysteine-containing, lipid-modified peptides are found to be S-acylated by cultured mammalian cells. The acylation reaction is highly specific for cysteinyl over serinyl residues and for lipid-modified peptides over hydrophilic peptides. The S-acylation process appears by various criteria to be enzymatic and resembles the S-acylation of plasma membrane-associated proteins in various characteristics, including inhibition by tunicamycin. The substrate range of the S-acylation reaction encompasses, but is not limited to, lipopeptides incorporating the motifs myristoylGC- and -CXC(farnesyl)-OCH3, which are reversibly S-acylated in various intracellular proteins. Mass-spectrometric analysis indicates that palmitoyl residues constitute the predominant but not the only type of S-acyl group coupled to a lipopeptide carrying the myristoylGC- motif, with smaller amounts of S-stearoyl and S-oleoyl substituents also detectable. Fluorescence microscopy using NBD-labeled cysteinyl lipopeptides reveals that the products of lipopeptide S-acylation, which cannot diffuse between membranes, are in almost all cases localized preferentially to the plasma membrane. This preferential localization is found even at reduced temperatures where vesicular transport from the Golgi complex to the plasma membrane is suppressed, strongly suggesting that the plasma membrane itself is the preferred site of S-acylation of these species. Uniquely among the lipopeptides studied, species incorporating an unphysiological N-myristoylcysteinyl- motif also show substantial formation of S-acylated products in a second, intracellular compartment identified as the Golgi complex by its labeling with a fluorescent ceramide. Our results suggest that distinct S-acyltransferases exist in the Golgi complex and plasma membrane compartments and that S-acylation of motifs such as myristoylGC- occurs specifically at the plasma membrane, affording efficient targeting of cellular proteins bearing such motifs to this membrane compartment.

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