The human gene MRS2L encodes a mitochondrial protein distantly related to CorA Mg(2+) transport proteins. Constitutive shRNA-mediated knockdown of hMRS2 in human HEK-293 cell line was found here to cause death. To further study its role in Mg(2+) transport, we have established stable cell lines with conditionally expressing shRNAs directed against hMRS2L. The cells expressing shRNA for several generations exhibited lower steady-state levels of free mitochondrial Mg(2+) ([Mg(2+)](m)) and reduced capacity of mitochondrial Mg(2+) uptake than control cells. Long-term expression of shRNAs resulted in loss of mitochondrial respiratory complex I, decreased mitochondrial membrane potential and cell death. We conclude that hMrs2 is the major transport protein for Mg (+) uptake into mitochondria and that expression of hMrs2 is essential for the maintenance of respiratory complex I and cell viability.