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EMBO J. 2007 Oct 17;26(20):4302-12. Epub 2007 Sep 13.

Elongation factor 1a mediates the specificity of mitochondrial tRNA import in T. brucei.

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Department of Biology/Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Fribourg, Chemin du Musée 10, Fribourg, Switzerland.


Mitochondrial tRNA import is widespread in eukaryotes. Yet, the mechanism that determines its specificity is unknown. Previous in vivo experiments using the tRNAs(Met), tRNA(Ile) and tRNA(Lys) have suggested that the T-stem nucleotide pair 51:63 is the main localization determinant of tRNAs in Trypanosoma brucei. In the cytosol-specific initiator tRNA(Met), this nucleotide pair is identical to the main antideterminant that prevents interaction with cytosolic elongation factor (eEF1a). Here we show that ablation of cytosolic eEF1a, but not of initiation factor 2, inhibits mitochondrial import of newly synthesized tRNAs well before translation or growth is affected. tRNA(Sec) is the only other cytosol-specific tRNA in T. brucei. It has its own elongation factor and does not bind eEF1a. However, a mutant of the tRNA(Sec) expected to bind to eEF1a is imported into mitochondria. This import requires eEF1a and aminoacylation of the tRNA. Thus, for a tRNA to be imported into the mitochondrion of T. brucei, it needs to bind eEF1a, and it is this interaction that mediates the import specificity.

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