The information for correct localization of newly synthesized proteins in both prokaryotes and eukaryotes resides in self-contained, often transportable targeting sequences. Of these, signal sequences specify that a protein should be secreted from a cell or incorporated into the cytoplasmic membrane. A central puzzle is presented by the lack of primary structural homology among signal sequences, although they share common features in their sequences. Synthetic signal peptides have enabled a wide range of studies of how these "zipcodes" for protein secretion are decoded and used to target proteins to the protein machinery that facilitates their translocation across and integration into membranes. We review research on how the information in signal sequences enables their passenger proteins to be correctly and efficiently localized. Synthetic signal peptides have made possible binding and crosslinking studies to explore how selectivity is achieved in recognition by the signal sequence-binding receptors, signal recognition particle, or SRP, which functions in all organisms, and SecA, which functions in prokaryotes and some organelles of prokaryotic origins. While progress has been made, the absence of atomic resolution structures for complexes of signal peptides and their receptors has definitely left many questions to be answered in the future.
(c) 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.