Biosynthesis of gramicidinS in Bacillus brevis is catalysed by a multienzyme system consisting of two multifunctional proteins, gramicidinS synthetase 1 and 2 codified by the grsA and grsB genes, respectively. GramicidinS synthetase 2 shows a modular architecture of four amino acid-activating domains each containing a thioester binding motif LGG H/D S L/I highly conserved in its C-terminal region, as demonstrated by sequence analysis of the grsB gene [W. Schlumbohm et al. (1991) J. Biol. Chem. 266, 23135-23141]. This multienzyme was specifically labeled at the thioester binding site of L-valine with [3H]N-ethylmaleimide using a substrate protection technique. After enzymatic digestion a labeled active site peptide was isolated in pure form by multistep methodology. This fragment was identified by gas-phase sequencing as the active site peptide of the thiotemplate site for L-Val by comparison with the grsB gene sequence. By mass spectrometry in combination with amino acid analysis it was demonstrated that a 4'-phosphopantetheine carrier was attached to the active serine in this motif. Our results give evidence that multiple peripheral 4'-phosphopantetheine carriers are involved in the formation of gramicidinS in contrast to a central carrier arm as assumed in the original version of the thiotemplate mechanism. A 'Multiple Carrier Model' of nonribosomal peptide biosynthesis is proposed.