A membrane-integrated , core-glycosylated form of bovine opsin was synthesized in vitro when bovine retina mRNA was translated in a wheat germ cell-free system supplemented with dog pancreas microsomal vesicles; glycosylation and integration of opsin into membranes were coupled to translation. Proteolysis with themolysin was used to probe the orientation of opsin within the dog pancreas microsomal membrane, and to compare it with that of opsin in rod cell disk membranes isolated from bovine retina. Intact microsomal or disk vesicles were required for production of discrete, membrane-associated thermolysin fragments of opsin; no discrete opsin fragments were detected when membranes were incubated with thermolysin in the presence of the nonionic detergent, Triton X-100. The major opsin fragments produced by themosylin treatment of intact microsomal vesicles resembled those from disk vesicles in their size, oligosaccharide content, and order of appearance. In each case, the first cleavage of opsin took place at the COOH-terminus, generating a glycosylated fragment, O', which was only slightly smaller than intact opsin. Both the microsomal and disk membrane forms of O' were next cleaved internally; glycosylated fragments of similar sizes in both cases were detected which were derived from the NH(2)-terminal portion of O'. Several smaller NH(2)-terminal fragments of opsin were detected only in thermolysin-treated microsomal membranes, and not in disk membranes. The data suggest that the topology of opsin integrated into dog pancreas microsomal vesicles is similar to that in rod cell disk vesicles, although not identical. In each case, the glycosylated NH(2)-terminal region of opsin is located within the lumen of the vesicle, while discrete COOH-terminal and internal segments of opsin apparently emerge at the outer, cytoplasmic face of the membrane. Thus, opsin in the heterologous microsomal membrane, like its counterpart in the native disk membrane, may cross the bilayer at least three times. The internal domain of the polypeptide that emerges at the outer membrane surface is apparently more highly exposed in the case of opsin in microsomal membranes, evidenced by the additional internal thermolysin cleavage sites detected.