A cell-free, mRNA-dependent system has been developed for the translation and processing of zein preproteins. A rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER)-enriched fraction, isolated by sucrose density gradients, can be treated with micrococcal nuclease to destroy endogenous messages. When these membranes are added to a wheat germ protein-synthesizing system together with zein mRNA, synthesis and processing of the polypeptides to the mature products takes place. The RER fraction from the endosperm has a different protein composition than that prepared from either the shoot or nucellar tissue and processes prezein more efficiently. The cleavage of the preproteins appears to be a cotranslational step as the completed preprotein chains cannot be processed, although they can be taken up to a limited extent. This small uptake, or absorption, or unprocessed zein seems to be an artifact and may be related to the unusual solubility properties of zein. Finally a sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS)-urea polyacrylamide gel system has been developed which is particularly suited for the separation of low molecular weight proteins (less than 10,000 daltons). Using this method, we examined the products of in vitro zein processing and detected no presequence polypeptides. This suggests that the zein cleavage proteinase is probably an exopeptidase.

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