The a-factor of Saccharomyces cerevisiae (YIIKGVF-WDPAC(Farnesyl)-OCH3) is a peptide pheromone in which post-translational modification with a farnesyl isoprenoid and carboxyl methyl group is required for export and bioactivity. Truncated and carboxyl-terminal modified analogs of the a- factor were synthesized in order to determine the effect of such modifications on bioactivity. Bioactivity studies on carboxyl-terminal analogs in which the chirality, the cysteine thioether, and the carboxyl ester were varied in an attempt to study the influence of topology on a- factor activity indicate that the hydrophobicity conferred by the farnesyl moiety and not its specific spatial orientation is a key determinant of a- factor potency. Analyses on truncated a-factors suggest that sequential removal of NH2-terminal residues leads to a gradient of potency loss, with some amino acids exhibiting a slightly greater contribution to bioactivity than others. Random oligonucleotide-targeted mutagenesis of the gene encoding a-factor was coupled to a biological screen to identify altered a-factor peptides which are secreted yet exhibit a loss of a-factor bioactivity. Transformants exhibiting this phenotype were examined to identify codon changes presumably responsible for the altered phenotype, thus indicating residues that may contribute significantly to a-factor bioactivity.