An N-terminal block to Edman degradation was observed when any of five different mammalian cytochrome P450 (P450) proteins was expressed in Escherichia coli using the N-terminal sequence MALLLAVFL... This block was also seen in Salmonella typhimurium. With all proteins examined, the block could be removed by mild acid hydrolysis (0.6--6 N HCl, 23 degrees C) to expose Met as the N-terminus, suggesting N-formylMet retention. The N-terminal peptide of a modified P450 1A2 ("mutant 1", containing a thrombin-sensitive site inserted at residue 25) was released with thrombin and analyzed by electrospray mass spectrometry and found to yield the M(r) expected for the N-formyl derivative (+/- 0.8 amu). The region of positions 3--5 was altered by random mutagenesis, and three P450 1A2-expressing clones were analyzed for nucleotide and amino acid sequences. The changes from LLL were to RER (P450 1A2a), VDS (P450 1A2b), and WRH (P450 1A2c); these all show slightly dissimilar hydropathy plots compared to the MALLLAVFL... sequence. Mutant P450 1A2a had the N-terminal Met removed to yield N-terminal Ala; P450 1A2b contained an unmodified Met at the N-terminus; P450 1A2c had an approximately 80% block of the N-terminal Met. Experiments with bacterial membranes containing expressed P450 1A2 mutant 1 and P450 1A2 mutant 2 (thrombin-sensitive site inserted at residue 46) suggest that thrombin site 2, but not 1, is sequestered in the membrane. Spheroplasts of bacteria expressing P450 1A2 and the mutants at positions 3--5 were treated with proteinase K; amino acid analysis indicated that no cleavage occurred. These results are interpreted in a model in which most of the mammalian P450 expressed in the bacterium is located in the cytosol, the region near residue 46 is in the inner membrane, the region near residue 25 is in the cytosol, and the N-terminus is either imbedded in the membrane or free in the cytosolic space, depending upon the sequence. However, the possibility that the differences in N-terminal processing are the result of direct changes in interactions with the deformylase and Met aminopeptidase cannot be excluded.