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IUBMB Life. 2003 Sep;55(9):505-13.

Properties of human mitochondrial ribosomes.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Health Science Center, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA.


Mammalian mitochondrial ribosomes (55S) differ unexpectedly from bacterial (70S) and cytoplasmic ribosomes (80S), as well as other kinds of mitochondrial ribosomes. Typical of mammalian mitochondrial ribosomes, the bovine mitochondrial ribosome has been developed as a model system for the study of human mitochondrial ribosomes, to address several questions related to the structure, function, biosynthesis and evolution of these interesting ribosomes. Bovine mitochondrial ribosomal proteins (MRPs) from each subunit have been identified and characterized with respect to individuality and electrophoretic properties, amino acid sequence, topographic disposition, RNA binding properties, evolutionary relationships and reaction with affinity probes of ribosomal functional domains. Several distinctive properties of these ribosomes are being elucidated, including their antibiotic susceptibility and composition. Human mitochondrial ribosomes lack several of the major RNA stem structures of bacterial ribosomes but they contain a correspondingly higher protein content (as many as 80 proteins), suggesting a model where proteins have replaced RNA structural elements during the evolution of these ribosomes. Despite their lower RNA content they are physically larger than bacterial ribosomes, because of the 'extra' proteins they contain. The extra proteins in mitochondrial ribosomes are 'new' in the sense that they are not homologous to proteins in bacterial or cytoplasmic ribosomes. Some of the new proteins appear to be bifunctional. All of the mammalian MRPs are encoded in nuclear genes (a separate set from those encoding cytoplasmic ribosomal proteins) which are evolving more rapidly than those encoding cytoplasmic ribosomal proteins. The MRPs are imported into mitochondria where they assemble coordinately with mitochondrially transcribed rRNAs into ribosomes that are responsible for translating the 13 mRNAs for essential proteins of the oxidative phosphorylation system.

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