N alpha-Acetyltransferase, which catalyzes the transfer of an acetyl group from acetyl coenzyme A to the alpha-NH2 group of proteins and peptides, was isolated from Saccharomyces cerevisiae and demonstrated by protein sequence analysis to be NH2-terminally blocked. The enzyme was purified 4,600-fold to apparent homogeneity by successive purification steps using DEAE-Sepharose, hydroxylapatite, DE52 cellulose, and Affi-Gel blue. The Mr of the native enzyme was estimated to be 180,000 +/- 10,000 by gel filtration chromatography, and the Mr of each subunit was estimated to be 95,000 +/- 2,000 by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. The enzyme has a pH optimum near 9.0, and its pI is 4.3 as determined by chromatofocusing on Mono-P. The enzyme catalyzed the transfer of an acetyl group to various synthetic peptides, including human adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) (1-24) and its [Phe2] analogue, yeast alcohol dehydrogenase I (1-24), yeast alcohol dehydrogenase II (1-24), and human superoxide dismutase (1-24). These peptides contain either Ser or Ala as NH2-terminal residues which together with Met are the most commonly acetylated NH2-terminal residues (Persson, B., Flinta, C., von Heijne, G., and Jornvall, H. (1985) Eur. J. Biochem. 152, 523-527). Yeast enolase, containing a free NH2-terminal Ala residue, is known not to be N alpha-acetylated in vivo (Chin, C. C. Q., Brewer, J. M., and Wold, F. (1981) J. Biol. Chem. 256, 1377-1384), and enolase (1-24), a synthetic peptide mimicking the protein's NH2 terminus, was not acetylated in vitro by yeast acetyltransferase. The enzyme did not catalyze the N alpha-acetylation of other synthetic peptides including ACTH(11-24), ACTH(7-38), ACTH(18-39), human beta-endorphin, yeast superoxide dismutase (1-24). Each of these peptides has an NH2-terminal residue which is rarely acetylated in proteins (Lys, Phe, Arg, Tyr, Val, respectively). Among a series of divalent cations, Cu2+ and Zn2+ were demonstrated to be the most potent inhibitors. The enzyme was inactivated by chemical modification with diethyl pyrocarbonate and N-bromosuccinimide.