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NOP1 is an essential nucleolar protein in yeast that is associated with small nucleolar RNA and required for ribosome biogenesis. We have cloned the human nucleolar protein, fibrillarin, from a HeLa cDNA library. Human fibrillarin is 70% identical to yeast NOP1 and is also the functional homologue since either human or Xenopus fibrillarin can complement a yeast nop1- mutant. Human fibrillarin is localized in the yeast nucleolus and associates with yeast small nucleolar RNAs. This shows that the signals within eucaryotic fibrillarin required for nucleolar association and nucleolar function are conserved from yeast to man. However, human fibrillarin only partially complements in yeast resulting in a temperature-sensitive growth, concomitantly altered rRNA processing and aberrant nuclear morphology. A suppressor of the human fibrillarin ts-mutant was isolated and found to map intragenically at a single amino acid position of the human nucleolar protein. The growth rate of yeast nop1- strains expressing Xenopus or human fibrillarin or the human fibrillarin suppressor correlates closely with their ability to efficiently and correctly process pre-rRNA. These findings demonstrate for the first time that vertebrate fibrillarin functions in ribosomal RNA processing in vivo.