Human METTL20 methylates lysine residues adjacent to the recognition loop of the electron transfer flavoprotein in mitochondria

J Biol Chem. 2014 Aug 29;289(35):24640-51. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.580464. Epub 2014 Jul 14.


In mammalian mitochondria, protein methylation is a relatively uncommon post-transcriptional modification, and the extent of the mitochondrial protein methylome, the modifying methyltransferases, and their substrates have been little studied. As shown here, the β-subunit of the electron transfer flavoprotein (ETF) is one such methylated protein. The ETF is a heterodimer of α- and β-subunits. Lysine residues 199 and 202 of mature ETFβ are almost completely trimethylated in bovine heart mitochondria, whereas ETFα is not methylated. The enzyme responsible for the modifications was identified as methyltransferase-like protein 20 (METTL20). In human 143B cells, the methylation of ETFβ is less extensive and is diminished further by suppression of METTL20. Tagged METTL20 expressed in HEK293T cells specifically associates with the ETF and promotes the trimethylation of ETFβ lysine residues 199 and 202. ETF serves as a mobile electron carrier linking dehydrogenases involved in fatty acid oxidation and one-carbon metabolism to the membrane-associated ubiquinone pool. The methylated residues in ETFβ are immediately adjacent to a protein loop that recognizes and binds to the dehydrogenases. Suppression of trimethylation of ETFβ in mouse C2C12 cells oxidizing palmitate as an energy source reduced the consumption of oxygen by the cells. These experiments suggest that the oxidation of fatty acids in mitochondria and the passage of electrons via the ETF may be controlled by modulating the protein-protein interactions between the reduced dehydrogenases and the β-subunit of the ETF by trimethylation of lysine residues. METTL20 is the first lysine methyltransferase to be found to be associated with mitochondria.

Keywords: Bioenergetics; Electron Transfer Flavoprotein; Electron Transport System (ETS); Flavoprotein; Methyltransferase; Mitochondrial Metabolism; Protein Methylation; Trimethyllysine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chromatography, Affinity
  • DNA Primers
  • Electron Transport
  • Flavoproteins / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lysine / metabolism*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Methylation
  • Methyltransferases / chemistry
  • Methyltransferases / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data


  • DNA Primers
  • Flavoproteins
  • ETFBKMT protein, human
  • Methyltransferases
  • Lysine

Associated data

  • PDB/1t9g