To examine the mechanisms of copper incorporation during ceruloplasmin biosynthesis, we developed methods to resolve and identify apo and holoceruloplasmin. The identity of holoceruloplasmin was confirmed by oxidase activity staining, immunoblotting, 67Cu-ligand exchange, and 67Cu-ligand blotting. Following metabolic labeling of human liver and lung cell lines with 67Cu, newly synthesized holoceruloplasmin was detected in the culture media as two species with apparent molecular masses of 84 and 79 kDa. Pulse-chase studies demonstrate that exogenous copper is readily available for incorporation into newly synthesized ceruloplasmin and that the kinetics of apo and holoceruloplasmin synthesis and secretion are identical. Inhibition of N-linked glycosylation did not affect the rate or amount of copper incorporated into newly synthesized ceruloplasmin but did result in the secretion of a single 68-kDa holoceruloplasmin moiety. Despite differences in the kinetics of copper uptake between cell lines a linear rate of copper incorporation into newly synthesized ceruloplasmin was observed with no evidence of copper exchange following biosynthesis. Under the conditions studied, holoceruloplasmin accounted for less than 5% of the total ceruloplasmin synthesized and secreted by each cell line. The data indicate that copper is incorporated into newly synthesized ceruloplasmin early in the course of biosynthesis by a process independent of N-linked carbohydrate addition. This process of copper incorporation results in an apparent conformational change in the ceruloplasmin molecule which does not affect the secretory rate of the protein.