Nuclear gene(s) have been shown to modulate the phenotypic expression of mitochondrial DNA mutations. We report here the identification and characterization of the yeast nuclear gene MTO2 encoding an evolutionarily conserved protein involved in mitochondrial tRNA modification. Interestingly, mto2 null mutants expressed a respiratory-deficient phenotype when coexisting with the C1409G mutation of mitochondrial 15 S rRNA at the very conservative site for human deafness-associated 12 S rRNA A1491G and C1409T mutations. Furthermore, the overall rate of mitochondrial translation was markedly reduced in a yeast mto2 strain in the wild type mitochondrial background, whereas mitochondrial protein synthesis was almost abolished in a yeast mto2 strain carrying the C1409G allele. The other interesting feature of mto2 mutants is the defective expression of mitochondrial genes, especially CYTB and COX1, but only when coexisting with the C1409G allele. These data strongly indicate that a product of MTO2 functionally interacts with the decoding region of 15 S rRNA, particularly at the site of the C1409G or A1491G mutation. In addition, we showed that yeast and human Mto2p localize in mitochondria. The isolated human MTO2 cDNA can partially restore the respiratory-deficient phenotype of yeast mto2 cells carrying the C1409G mutation. These functional conservations imply that human MTO2 may act as a modifier gene, modulating the phenotypic expression of the deafness-associated A1491G or C1409T mutation in mitochondrial 12 S rRNA.