Profilaggrin is expressed in the differentiating granular layer of epidermis and other stratified epithelia, where it forms a major component of cytoplasmic keratohyalin granules. It consists of two distinct domains, an N-terminal S100-like Ca2+- binding domain containing two EF-hands and multiple filaggrin units that aggregate keratin filaments in the stratum corneum. Here, we report structure-function studies of the N-terminal peptide from mouse, human, and rat profilaggrin. The profilaggrin N- terminal peptides of all species contain two S100-like EF-hands, bipartite nuclear localization sequences, and proprotein convertase cleavage sites. The nuclear localization signals in human and mouse profilaggrin were shown to be functional by transfection of epithelial cells and depended on the absence of filaggrin sequences. The nuclear localization of the processed (free) N-terminal peptide of human profilaggrin is consistent with immunolocalization findings in normal human skin and in parakeratotic skin disorders, which exhibit nuclear staining of granular and/or cornified layers. The mouse profilaggrin N-terminus undergoes proteolytic processing in two steps, first releasing an N-terminal peptide containing some filaggrin sequence and finally the free N-terminus of 28-30 kDa; these peptides have cytoplasmic and nuclear distributions, respectively, when expressed in transfected cells. The N-terminal processing may occur prior to or simultaneously with the proteolytic processing of the polyfilaggrin domain. The nuclear accumulation of the profilaggrin N-terminal peptide in epidermis and in transfected cells strongly suggests a calcium-dependent nuclear function for the profilaggrin N-terminus during epidermal terminal differentia tion when the free N-terminus is released from profilaggrin by specific proteolysis.