Genetic studies have indicated that the product of the yeast SUP45 gene encodes a component of the translational-termination machinery. In higher eukaryotes, genes similar to SUP45 encode eukaryote release factor 1 (eRF1), which has a stop-codon-dependent peptidyl-release activity. Using a conditional-lethal mutant allele of SUP45 (sup45-2) and a combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches, we demonstrate that the product of the SUP45 gene (Sup45p or eRF1) is a factor required for translation termination in yeast. A homologous in vitro assay based on suppressor-tRNA-mediated readthrough of stop codons is used to show that a translating lysate from a sup45-2 mutant strain exhibits a termination defect when heated for short periods to greater than the non-permissive temperature (37 degrees C). This defect can be complemented with a purified preparation of Sup45p (eRF1) expressed in Eschericha coli. The termination defect in this strain appears to be due to an inability of the Sup45p protein to bind the ribosome, resulting in vivo in a reduced ability of Sup45p to release nascent polypeptides from the ribosome at the non-permissive temperature. Cell-free translation lysates from the sup45-2 strain do not show a defect in sense-codon translation at the non-permissive temperature. These data demonstrate that yeast eRF1 plays a role in translation termination and is functionally equivalent to its higher eukaryotic homologues.