Elongator protein 3 (Elp3) lysine acetyltransferase is a tail-anchored mitochondrial protein in Toxoplasma gondii

J Biol Chem. 2013 Aug 30;288(35):25318-25329. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M113.491373. Epub 2013 Jul 22.


Lysine acetylation has recently emerged as an important, widespread post-translational modification occurring on proteins that reside in multiple cellular compartments, including the mitochondria. However, no lysine acetyltransferase (KAT) has been definitively localized to this organelle to date. Here we describe the identification of an unusual homologue of Elp3 in early-branching protozoa in the phylum Apicomplexa. Elp3 is the catalytic subunit of the well-conserved transcription Elongator complex; however, Apicomplexa lack all other Elongator subunits, suggesting that the Elp3 in these organisms plays a role independent of transcription. Surprisingly, Elp3 in the parasites of this phylum, including Toxoplasma gondii (TgElp3), possesses a unique C-terminal transmembrane domain (TMD) that localizes the protein to the mitochondrion. As TgElp3 is devoid of known mitochondrial targeting signals, we used selective permeabilization studies to reveal that this KAT is oriented with its catalytic components facing the cytosol and its C-terminal TMD inserted into the outer mitochondrial membrane, consistent with a tail-anchored membrane protein. Elp3 trafficking to mitochondria is not exclusive to Toxoplasma as we also present evidence that a form of Elp3 localizes to these organelles in mammalian cells, supporting the idea that Elp3 performs novel functions across eukaryotes that are independent of transcriptional elongation. Importantly, we also present genetic studies that suggest TgElp3 is essential in Toxoplasma and must be positioned at the mitochondrial surface for parasite viability.

Keywords: Acetylation; Apicomplexa; Elongator; Iron-sulfur Protein; Membrane Enzymes; Mitochondria; Parasite; Post-translational Modification; Protein Targeting; Protozoan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Acetyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Protozoan Proteins / genetics
  • Protozoan Proteins / metabolism*
  • Toxoplasma / enzymology*
  • Toxoplasma / genetics


  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Protozoan Proteins
  • Acetyltransferases