Soluble proteins that reside in the lumen of the endoplasmic reticulum are known to have at their carboxyterminus the tetrapeptides KDEL or HDEL. In yeast and mammalian cells, these tetrapeptides function as endoplasmic reticulum (ER)-retention signals. To determine the effect of an artificially-introduced KDEL sequence at the exact carboxyterminus of a plant secretory protein, we modified the gene of the vacuolar protein phytohemagglutinin-L (PHA) so that the amino-acid sequence would end in LNKDEL rather than LNKIL, and expressed the modified gene in transgenic tobacco with a seed-specific promoter. Analysis of the glycans of PHA showed that most of the control PHA had one endoglycosidase H-sensitive and one endoglycosidase H-resistant glycan, indicating that it had been processed in the Golgi complex. On the other hand, a substantial portion of the PHA-KDEL (about 75% at mid-maturation and 50% in mature seeds) had two endoglycosidase H-sensitive glycans. Phytohemagglutinin with two endoglycosidase H-sensitive glycans is normally found in the ER. Using immunocytochemistry we found that a substantial portion of the PHA-KDEL was present in the ER or accumulated in the nuclear envelope while the remainder was found in the protein storage vacuoles (protein bodies). We interpret these data to indicate that carboxyterminal KDEL functions as an ER retention-retardation signal and causes protein to accumulate in the nuclear envelope as well as in the ER. The incomplete ER retention of this protein which is modified at the exact carboxyterminus may indicate that structural features other than carboxyterminal KDEL are important if complete ER retention is to be achieved.Mention of trademark, proprietary product, or vendor, does not constitute a guarantee or warrenty of the product by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and does not imply its approval to the exclusion of other products or vendors that may also be suitable.