A group of 23-29-kDa polypeptides in the membranes of bovine rod outer segments are substrates for S-adenosylmethionine-dependent methylation reactions. The bulk of the methyl group incorporation is in base-labile ester-like linkages, and does not appear to be due to the widespread D-aspartyl/L-isoaspartyl methyltransferase (EC 184.108.40.206). To determine the site(s) of methylation, 3H-methylated proteins separated by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in sodium dodecyl sulfate were eluted and digested with papain, leucine aminopeptidase-M, and prolidase. After performic acid oxidation of the digest, a base-labile radioactive material was recovered that coeluted with a synthetic standard of cysteic acid methyl ester upon cation exchange and G-15 gel filtration chromatography, as well as in two thin-layer electrophoresis and two thin-layer chromatography systems. These results provide direct evidence for the methylation of the alpha-carboxyl group of a carboxyl-terminal cysteinyl residue, a modification that has been proposed for the 21-kDa Ha-ras product and other cellular proteins (Clarke, S., Vogel, J. P., Deschenes, R. J., and Stock, J. (1988) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 85, 4643-4647).