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Mol Cell Biol. 1991 Nov;11(11):5487-96.

Role of cytochrome c heme lyase in mitochondrial import and accumulation of cytochrome c in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

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Department of Biochemistry, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, New York 14642.


Heme is covalently attached to cytochrome c by the enzyme cytochrome c heme lyase. To test whether heme attachment is required for import of cytochrome c into mitochondria in vivo, antibodies to cytochrome c have been used to assay the distributions of apo- and holocytochromes c in the cytoplasm and mitochondria from various strains of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Strains lacking heme lyase accumulate apocytochrome c in the cytoplasm. Similar cytoplasmic accumulation is observed for an altered apocytochrome c in which serine residues were substituted for the two cysteine residues that normally serve as sites of heme attachment, even in the presence of normal levels of heme lyase. However, detectable amounts of this altered apocytochrome c are also found inside mitochondria. The level of internalized altered apocytochrome c is decreased in a strain that completely lacks heme lyase and is greatly increased in a strain that overexpresses heme lyase. Antibodies recognizing heme lyase were used to demonstrate that the enzyme is found on the outer surface of the inner mitochondrial membrane and is not enriched at sites of contact between the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes. These results suggest that apocytochrome c is transported across the outer mitochondrial membrane by a freely reversible process, binds to heme lyase in the intermembrane space, and is then trapped inside mitochondria by an irreversible conversion to holocytochrome c accompanied by folding to the native conformation. Altered apocytochrome c lacking the ability to have heme covalently attached accumulates in mitochondria only to the extent that it remains bound to heme lyase.

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