The distribution of newly synthesized proteolipid protein (PLP, 23 kdaltons) and myelin basic proteins (MBPs, 14-21.5 kdaltons) was determined in microsomal and myelin fractions prepared from the brainstems o1 10-30 d-old rats sacrificed at different times after an intracranial injection of 35S-methionine. Labeled MBPs were found in the myelin fraction 2 min after the injection, whereas PLP appeared first in the rough microsomal fraction and only after a lag of 30 min in the myelin fraction. Cell-free translation experiments using purified mRNAs demonstrated that PLP and MBPs are synthesized in bound and free polysomes, respectively. A mechanism involving the cotranslational insertion into the ER membrane and subsequent passage of the polypeptides through the Golgi apparatus is consistent with the lag observed in the appearance of the in vivo-labeled PLP in the myelin membrane. Newly synthesized PLP and MBPs are not proteolytically processed, because the primary translation products synthesized in vitro had the same electrophoretic mobility and N-terminal amino acid sequence as the mature PLP and MBP polypeptides. It was found that crude myelin fractions are highly enriched in mRNAs coding for the MBPs but not in mRNA coding for PLP. This suggests that whereas the bound polysomes synthesizing PLP are largely confined to the cell body, free polysomes synthesizing MBPs are concentrated in oligodendrocyte processes involved in myelination, which explains the immediate incorporation of MBPs into the developing myelin sheath.

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