The initial steps in the processing of the common precursor to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) and endorphin in mouse pituitary tumor cells (AtT-20) have been investigated. Three forms of the precursor have been resolved by sodium dodecyl sulfate (NaDodSO4)-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis with apparent molecular weights of 29 000 (29K ACTH-endorphin), 32 000 (32K ACTH-endorphin) and 34 000 (34K ACTH-endorphin). These forms have a similar peptide backbone, but their carbohydrate content differs. In particular, a tryptic glycopeptide has been observed in 32K ACTH-endorphin which is not present in 29K ACTH-en-dorphin and has been identified as the tryptic peptide containing the α(22-39) sequence of ACTH. Similar heterogeneity in carbohydrate has been observed in some of the smaller molecular weight forms of ACTH which are resolved by NaDodSO4 gel electrophoresis. Pulse chase and continuous labeling studies using radioactive amino acids and sugars suggest that the 29K ACTH-endorphin is converted to 32K and 34K ACTH-endorphin by the addition of carbohydrate. The glycopeptide and pulse chase studies suggest that 29K ACTH-endorphin is at a branch point in the processing pathways. It can either be converted to 4.5K ACTH by proteolytic processing or to 32K ACTH-endorphin by the further addition of carbohydrate. The 32K ACTH-endorphin can then be converted to 13K ACTH, the glycosylated form of 4.5K ACTH (Eipper, B. A., & Mains, R. E. (1977) J. Biol. Chem. 252, 882), by proteolytic processing. A comparison of the distribution of the different molecular weight forms of ACTH and endorphin in mouse pituitary extracts and in the mouse pituitary tumor cells reveals that the pituitary contains all of the forms of ACTH and endorphin seen in the tumor cells, including the three forms of the ACTH-endorphin precursor. However, the molecular weight distribution of the forms in the anterior lobe is very different from that in the intermediate lobe of mouse pituitary.
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