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RNA. 2008 Apr;14(4):749-59. doi: 10.1261/rna.952208. Epub 2008 Feb 26.

Two distinct structural elements of 5S rRNA are needed for its import into human mitochondria.

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Department of Molecular and Cellular Genetics, UMR 7156, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique-Université Louis Pasteur,Strasbourg 67084, France.


RNA import into mitochondria is a widespread phenomenon. Studied in details for yeast, protists, and plants, it still awaits thorough investigation for human cells, in which the nuclear DNA-encoded 5S rRNA is imported. Only the general requirements for this pathway have been described, whereas specific protein factors needed for 5S rRNA delivery into mitochondria and its structural determinants of import remain unknown. In this study, a systematic analysis of the possible role of human 5S rRNA structural elements in import was performed. Our experiments in vitro and in vivo show that two distinct regions of the human 5S rRNA molecule are needed for its mitochondrial targeting. One of them is located in the proximal part of the helix I and contains a conserved uncompensated G:U pair. The second and most important one is associated with the loop E-helix IV region with several noncanonical structural features. Destruction or even destabilization of these sites leads to a significant decrease of the 5S rRNA import efficiency. On the contrary, the beta-domain of the 5S rRNA was proven to be dispensable for import, and thus it can be deleted or substituted without affecting the 5S rRNA importability. This finding was used to demonstrate that the 5S rRNA can function as a vector for delivering heterologous RNA sequences into human mitochondria. 5S rRNA-based vectors containing a substitution of a part of the beta-domain by a foreign RNA sequence were shown to be much more efficiently imported in vivo than the wild-type 5S rRNA.

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