Chloroplasts are essential organelles in the cells of plants and algae. The functions of these specialized plastids are largely dependent on the ~3000 proteins residing in the organelle. Although chloroplasts are capable of a limited amount of semiautonomous protein synthesis - their genomes encode ~100 proteins - they must import more than 95% of their proteins after synthesis in the cytosol. Imported proteins generally possess an N-terminal extension termed a transit peptide. The importing translocons are made up of two complexes in the outer and inner envelope membranes, the so-called Toc and Tic machineries, respectively. The Toc complex contains two precursor receptors, Toc159 and Toc34, a protein channel, Toc75, and a peripheral component, Toc64/OEP64. The Tic complex consists of as many as eight components, namely Tic22, Tic110, Tic40, Tic20, Tic21 Tic62, Tic55 and Tic32. This general Toc/Tic import pathway, worked out largely in pea chloroplasts, appears to operate in chloroplasts in all green plants, albeit with significant modifications. Sub-complexes of the Toc and Tic machineries are proposed to exist to satisfy different substrate-, tissue-, cell- and developmental requirements. In this review, we summarize our understanding of the functions of Toc and Tic components, comparing these components of the import machinery in green algae through trees. We emphasize recent findings that point to growing complexities of chloroplast protein import process, and use the evolutionary relationships between proteins of different species in an attempt to define the essential core translocon components and those more likely to be responsible for regulation. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Protein Import and Quality Control in Mitochondria and Plastids.
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