The sites and the sequence of the proteolytic cleavages of bovine, human and rat thyroglobulin, during the limited proteolysis with thermolysin and trypsin, were determined by sequencing the NH2 termini of the peptides produced and comparing them to the cDNA-derived sequences of bovine, human and rat thyroglobulin. Major cleavage sites of bovine thyroglobulin included residues 240, 502, 993, 1218, 1784 with thermolysin, and 240, 520, 1142, 1783, 2515 with trypsin. Cleavage sites of human thyroglobulin included residues 503, 982, 990, 1405, 1831 with thermolysin, and 522, 1627, 2513 with trypsin. Those of rat thyroglobulin included residues 501, 1776, 1784 with thermolysin, and 522, 1771, 1825, 2515 with trypsin (numbered as in bovine thyroglobulin). Thus, thyroglobulin from various species presents well localized and conserved regions particularly sensitive to proteolysis. The most sensitive region extended for 30 residues after residue 500. Another major cluster of cleavages was centered around residue 1800; this region was only partially sensitive in human thyroglobulin. A conserved tryptic site lay at the COOH terminus of the molecule. Most cleavage sites occurred within the inserted sequences that disrupt the Cys-rich, tandem repeats of thyroglobulin and either contain or are located near exon-intron junctions. Several cleavage sites lay in proximity of early iodinated or hormonogenic tyrosyl residues or of putative N-linked glycosylation sites. While a predominantly beta-type secondary structure and a rigid three-dimensional structure were predicted for the Cys-rich repeats, stretches of predicted alpha-helices, beta-strands and irregular structure were interspersed in the regions surrounding the cleavage sites. These data demonstrate the existence of conserved regions of thyroglobulin inherently sensitive to proteolysis, which most likely represent solvent-exposed regions of the primary structure, possibly forming loops at the surface of thyroglobulin.