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We described previously an assay for authentic nuclear protein import in vitro. In this assay, exogenous nuclei are placed in an extract of Xenopus eggs; a rhodamine-labeled protein possessing a nuclear localization signal is added, and fluorescence microscopy is used to measure nuclear uptake. The requirement in this system for a cytosolic extract suggests that nuclear import is dependent on at least one cytosolic factor. We now confirm this hypothesis. Treatment of the cytosol with N-ethylmaleimide (NEM) abolishes nuclear protein import; readdition of a cytosolic fraction to the NEM-inactivated extract rescues transport. Thus, at least one NEM-sensitive factor required for transport is supplied by the cytosol. This activity, called nuclear import factor-1, or NIF-1, is ammonium-sulfate-precipitable, protease- sensitive, and heat-labile; it is therefore at least partly proteinaceous. NIF-1 stimulates, in a concentration-dependent manner, the rate at which individual nuclei accumulate protein. The effect of NIF-1 is enhanced by a second cytosolic NEM-sensitive factor, NIF-2. Earlier we identified two steps in the nuclear import reaction: (a) ATP- independent binding of a signal-sequence-bearing protein to the nuclear pore; and (b) ATP-dependent translocation of that protein through the pore. We now show that NEM inhibits signal-mediated binding, and that readdition of NIF-1 restores binding. Thus, NIF-1 is required for at least the binding step and does not require ATP for its activity. NIF-1 may act as a cytoplasmic signal receptor that escorts signal-bearing proteins to the pore, or may instead promote signal-mediated binding to the pore in another manner, as discussed.