Protein import into mitochondria: origins and functions today (review)

Mol Membr Biol. 2005 Jan-Apr;22(1-2):87-100. doi: 10.1080/09687860500041247.


Mitochondria are organelles derived from alpha-proteobacteria over the course of one to two billion years. Mitochondria from the major eukaryotic lineages display some variation in functions and coding capacity but sequence analysis demonstrates them to be derived from a single common ancestral endosymbiont. The loss of assorted functions, the transfer of genes to the nucleus, and the acquisition of various 'eukaryotic' proteins have resulted in an organelle that contains approximately 1000 different proteins, with most of these proteins imported into the organelle across one or two membranes. A single translocase in the outer membrane and two translocases in the inner membrane mediate protein import. Comparative sequence analysis and functional complementation experiments suggest some components of the import pathways to be directly derived from the eubacterial endosymbiont's own proteins, and some to have arisen 'de novo' at the earliest stages of 'mitochondrification' of the endosymbiont. A third class of components appears lineage-specific, suggesting they were incorporated into the process of protein import long after mitochondria was established as an organelle and after the divergence of the various eukaryotic lineages. Protein sorting pathways inherited from the endosymbiont have been co-opted and play roles in intraorganelle protein sorting after import. The import apparatus of animals and fungi show significant similarity to one another, but vary considerably to the plant apparatus. Increasing complexity in the eukaryotic lineage, i.e., from single celled to multi-cellular life forms, has been accompanied by an expansion in genes encoding each component, resulting in small gene families encoding many components. The functional differences in these gene families remain to be elucidated, but point to a mosaic import apparatus that can be regulated by a variety of signals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Bacterial Proteins / metabolism
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Fungal Proteins / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / physiology
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Transport
  • Yeasts / physiology


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • Fungal Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins