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J Mol Biol. 2008 Feb 22;376(3):694-704. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2007.12.021. Epub 2007 Dec 15.

The transmembrane segment of Tom20 is recognized by Mim1 for docking to the mitochondrial TOM complex.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne 3010, Australia.


Mitochondria cannot be made de novo. Mitochondrial biogenesis requires that up to 1000 proteins are imported into mitochondria, and the protein import pathway relies on hetero-oligomeric translocase complexes in both the inner and outer mitochondrial membranes. The translocase in the outer membrane, the TOM complex, is composed of a core complex formed from the beta-barrel channel Tom40 and additional subunits each with single, alpha-helical transmembrane segments. How alpha-helical transmembrane segments might be assembled onto a transmembrane beta-barrel in the context of a membrane environment is a question of fundamental importance. The master receptor subunit of the TOM complex, Tom20, recognizes the targeting sequence on incoming mitochondrial precursor proteins, binds these protein ligands, and then transfers them to the core complex for translocation across the outer membrane. Here we show that the transmembrane segment of Tom20 contains critical residues essential for docking the Tom20 receptor into its correct environment within the TOM complex. This crucial docking reaction is catalyzed by the unique assembly factor Mim1/Tom13. Mutations in the transmembrane segment that destabilize Tom20, or deletion of Mim1, prevent Tom20 from functioning as a receptor for protein import into mitochondria.

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