SIRT3 (sirtuin 3) modulates respiration via the deacetylation of lysine residues in electron transport chain proteins. Whether mitochondrial protein acetylation is controlled by a counter-regulatory program has remained elusive. In the present study we identify an essential component of this previously undefined mitochondrial acetyltransferase system. We show that GCN5L1 [GCN5 (general control of amino acid synthesis 5)-like 1; also known as Bloc1s1] counters the acetylation and respiratory effects of SIRT3. GCN5L1 is mitochondrial-enriched and displays significant homology with a prokaryotic acetyltransferase. Genetic knockdown of GCN5L1 blunts mitochondrial protein acetylation, and its reconstitution in intact mitochondria restores protein acetylation. GCN5L1 interacts with and promotes acetylation of SIRT3 respiratory chain targets and reverses global SIRT3 effects on mitochondrial protein acetylation, respiration and bioenergetics. The results of the present study identify GCN5L1 as a critical prokaryote-derived component of the mitochondrial acetyltransferase programme.