A histidine-rich motif mediates mitochondrial localization of ZnT2 to modulate mitochondrial function

Am J Physiol Cell Physiol. 2011 Jun;300(6):C1479-89. doi: 10.1152/ajpcell.00420.2010. Epub 2011 Feb 2.


Female reproductive tissues such as mammary glands, ovaries, uterus, and placenta are phenotypically dynamic, requiring tight integration of bioenergetic and apoptotic mechanisms. Mitochondrial zinc (Zn) pools have emerged as a central player in regulating bioenergetics and apoptosis. Zn must first be imported into mitochondria to modulate mitochondrion-specific functions; however, mitochondrial Zn import mechanisms have not been identified. Here we documented that the Zn transporter ZnT2 is associated with the inner mitochondrial membrane and acts as an auxiliary Zn importer into mitochondria in mammary cells. We found that attenuation of ZnT2 expression significantly reduced mitochondrial Zn uptake and total mitochondrial Zn pools. Moreover, expression of a ZnT2-hemagglutinin (HA) fusion protein was localized to mitochondria and significantly increased Zn uptake and mitochondrial Zn pools, directly implicating ZnT2 in Zn import into mitochondria. Confocal microscopy of truncated and point mutants of ZnT2-green fluorescent protein (GFP) fusion proteins revealed a histidine-rich motif ((51)HHXH(54)) in the NH(2) terminus that is important for mitochondrial targeting of ZnT2. More importantly, the expansion of mitochondrial Zn pools by ZnT2 overexpression significantly reduced ATP biogenesis and mitochondrial oxidation concurrent with increased apoptosis, suggesting a functional role for ZnT2-mediated Zn import into mitochondria. These results identify the first Zn transporter directly associated with mitochondria and suggest that unique secretory tissues such as the mammary gland require novel mechanisms to modulate mitochondrion-specific functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Motifs
  • Animals
  • Cation Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Cation Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Female
  • Histidine / metabolism*
  • Mammary Glands, Animal / cytology
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pregnancy
  • RNA, Small Interfering / genetics
  • RNA, Small Interfering / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • Cation Transport Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Znt2 protein, mouse
  • Histidine
  • Zinc