Dorsoventral patterning of the Drosophila embryo requires Nudel, a large mosaic protein with a protease domain. Previous studies have implicated Nudel's protease domain as the trigger of a proteolytic cascade that activates the Toll signaling pathway to establish dorsoventral polarity in the embryo. However, the function of other regions of Nudel has been unclear. By using two-dimensional gel electrophoresis and site-directed mutagenesis, we have obtained evidence that the N-terminal region of Nudel contains a site for glycosaminoglycan (GAG) attachment that is required for dorsoventral patterning. Disruption of this site blocks a disulfide-based association between N- and C-terminal Nudel polypeptides and proteolytic activation of Nudel's protease domain. We discuss how a GAG chain on Nudel might be required for Nudel protease activation. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.