tRNAs and proteins use the same import channel for translocation across the mitochondrial outer membrane of trypanosomes

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Sep 12;114(37):E7679-E7687. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1711430114. Epub 2017 Aug 28.


Mitochondrial tRNA import is widespread, but the mechanism by which tRNAs are imported remains largely unknown. The mitochondrion of the parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma brucei lacks tRNA genes, and thus imports all tRNAs from the cytosol. Here we show that in T. brucei in vivo import of tRNAs requires four subunits of the mitochondrial outer membrane protein translocase but not the two receptor subunits, one of which is essential for protein import. The latter shows that it is possible to uncouple mitochondrial tRNA import from protein import. Ablation of the intermembrane space domain of the translocase subunit, archaic translocase of the outer membrane (ATOM)14, on the other hand, while not affecting the architecture of the translocase, impedes both protein and tRNA import. A protein import intermediate arrested in the translocation channel prevents both protein and tRNA import. In the presence of tRNA, blocking events of single-channel currents through the pore formed by recombinant ATOM40 were detected in electrophysiological recordings. These results indicate that both types of macromolecules use the same import channel across the outer membrane. However, while tRNA import depends on the core subunits of the protein import translocase, it does not require the protein import receptors, indicating that the two processes are not mechanistically linked.

Keywords: RNA; mitochondrial outer membrane; mitochondrial protein import; mitochondrial tRNA import; trypanosomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / physiology*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / physiology
  • Protein Conformation
  • Protein Transport / physiology*
  • RNA Transport / physiology*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism
  • RNA, Transfer / physiology
  • Trypanosoma / genetics
  • Trypanosoma / metabolism
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / genetics


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • RNA, Transfer