We have investigated a possible involvement of GTPases in nuclear protein import using an in vitro transport system involving digitonin-permeabilized cells supplemented with exogenous cytosol. Transport in this system was measured with a novel ELISA-based assay that allows rapid quantitative analysis. GTP gamma S and other nonhydrolyzable analogues of GTP were found to rapidly inhibit the rate of in vitro nuclear import. Transport inhibition by GTP gamma S was dependent on the concentrations of permeabilized cells and cytosol, and was strongly enhanced by a cytosolic factor(s). The predominant cytosolic component responsible for this inhibition was found in a 20-30-kD fraction in molecular sieving chromatography. Furthermore, a component(s) of this 20-30-kD fraction was itself required for efficient nuclear import. Biochemical complementation with bacterially expressed protein demonstrated that this essential GTP gamma S-sensitive transport factor was Ran/TC4, a previously described GTPase of the Ras superfamily found in both nucleus and cytoplasm. Ran/TC4 and its guanine nucleotide release protein RCC1 have previously been implicated in DNA replication, cell cycle checkpoint control, and RNA synthesis, processing and export. Our results suggest that Ran/TC4 serves to integrate nuclear protein import with these other nuclear activities.