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Biochim Biophys Acta. 1989 Jan 18;988(1):1-45.

Mitochondrial protein import.

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  • 1Institut für Physiologische Chemie, Universität München, F.R.G.


Most mitochondrial proteins are synthesized as precursor proteins on cytosolic polysomes and are subsequently imported into mitochondria. Many precursors carry amino-terminal presequences which contain information for their targeting to mitochondria. In several cases, targeting and sorting information is also contained in non-amino-terminal portions of the precursor protein. Nucleoside triphosphates are required to keep precursors in an import-competent (unfolded) conformation. The precursors bind to specific receptor proteins on the mitochondrial surface and interact with a general insertion protein (GIP) in the outer membrane. The initial interaction of the precursor with the inner membrane requires the mitochondrial membrane potential (delta psi) and occurs at contact sites between outer and inner membranes. Completion of translocation into the inner membrane or matrix is independent of delta psi. The presequences are cleaved off by the processing peptidase in the mitochondrial matrix. In several cases, a second proteolytic processing event is performed in either the matrix or in the intermembrane space. Other modifications can occur such as the addition of prosthetic groups (e.g., heme or Fe/S clusters). Some precursors of proteins of the intermembrane space or the outer surface of the inner membrane are retranslocated from the matrix space across the inner membrane to their functional destination ('conservative sorting'). Finally, many proteins are assembled in multi-subunit complexes. Exceptions to this general import pathway are known. Precursors of outer membrane proteins are transported directly into the outer membrane in a receptor-dependent manner. The precursor of cytochrome c is directly translocated across the outer membrane and thereby reaches the intermembrane space. In addition to the general sequence of events which occurs during mitochondrial protein import, current research focuses on the molecules themselves that are involved in these processes.

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