Mitochondria have to import the vast majority of their proteins, which are synthesized as precursors on cytosolic ribosomes. The translocase of the outer membrane (TOM complex) forms the general entry gate for the precursor proteins, which are subsequently sorted by protein machineries into the mitochondrial subcompartments: the outer and inner membrane, the intermembrane space and the mitochondrial matrix. The transport across and into the inner membrane is driven by the membrane potential, which is generated by the respiratory chain. Recent studies revealed that the lipid composition of mitochondrial membranes is important for the biogenesis of mitochondrial proteins. Cardiolipin and phosphatidylethanolamine exhibit unexpectedly specific functions for the activity of distinct protein translocases. Both phospholipids are required for full activity of respiratory chain complexes and thus to maintain the membrane potential for protein import. In addition, cardiolipin is required to maintain structural integrity of mitochondrial protein translocases. Finally, the low sterol content in the mitochondrial outer membrane may contribute to the targeting of some outer membrane proteins with a single α-helical membrane anchor. Altogether, mitochondrial lipids modulate protein import on various levels involving precursor targeting, membrane potential generation, stability and activity of protein translocases.
Keywords: Cardiolipin; Mitochondria; Phosphatidylethanolamine; Protein import.