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EMBO J. 1987 Mar;6(3):705-11.

Independent mutations at the amino terminus of a protein act as surrogate signals for mitochondrial import.


Intracellular delivery of the mitochondrial F1-ATPase beta-subunit precursor from the cytoplasm into the matrix of mitochondria is prevented by deletion of its mitochondrial import signal, a basic amphipathic alpha-helix at its amino terminus. Using a complementation assay, we have selected spontaneous mutations which restore the correct in vivo localization of the protein containing the import signal deletion. Analysis of these mutations revealed that different functional surrogate mitochondrial targeting signals formed within a narrow region of the extreme amino terminus of the import signal deleted beta-subunit. These modifications specifically replace different acidic residues with neutral or basic residues to generate a less acidic amphipathic helix within a region of the protein which is accessible for interaction with the membrane surface. The observations of this study confirm the requirement for amphipathicity as part of the mitochondrial import signal and suggest how mitochondrial targeting signals may have evolved within the extreme amino terminus of mitochondrial proteins.

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