Young and adult rats received intracranial injections of [33P]orthophosphoric acid. The time course of the appearance and decay of the radioactive label on basic proteins in isolated myelin was followed for 1 mo. Incorporation was maximal by 1 h, followed by a decay phase with a half-life of approximately 2 wk. However, radioactivity in the acid-soluble precursor pool (which always constituted at least half of the total radioactivity) decayed with a similar half-life, suggesting that the true turnover time of basic protein phosphates might be masked by continued exchange with a long-lived radioactive precursor pool. Calculations based on the rate of incorporation were made to more closely determine the true turnover time; it was found that most of the phosphate groups of basic protein turned over in a matter of minutes. Incorporation was independent of the rate of myelin synthesis but was proportional to the amount of myelin present. Experiments in which myelin was subfractionated to yield fractions differing in degree of compaction suggested that even the basic protein phosphate groups of primarily compacted myelin participated in this rapid exchange. Similar studies were carried out on the metabolism of radioactive amino acids incorporated into the peptide backbone of myelin basic proteins. The metabolism of the methyl groups of methylarginines also was monitored using [methyl-3H]methionine as a precursor. In contrast to the basic protein phosphate groups, both the peptide backbone and the modifying methyl groups had a metabolic half-life of months, which cannot be accounted for by reutilization from a pool of soluble precursor. The demonstration that the phosphate groups of myelin basic protein turn over rapidly suggests that, in contrast to the static morphological picture, basic proteins may be readily accessible to cytoplasm in vivo.

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