Maintenance of mitochondrial gene expression is crucial for cellular homeostasis. Stress conditions may lead to a temporary reduction of mitochondrial genome copy number, raising the risk of insufficient expression of mitochondrial encoded genes. Little is known how compensatory mechanisms operate to maintain proper mitochondrial transcripts levels upon disturbed transcription and which proteins are involved in them. Here we performed a quantitative proteomic screen to search for proteins that sustain expression of mtDNA under stress conditions. Analysis of stress-induced changes of the human mitochondrial proteome led to the identification of several proteins with poorly defined functions among which we focused on C6orf203, which we named MTRES1 (Mitochondrial Transcription Rescue Factor 1). We found that the level of MTRES1 is elevated in cells under stress and we show that this upregulation of MTRES1 prevents mitochondrial transcript loss under perturbed mitochondrial gene expression. This protective effect depends on the RNA binding activity of MTRES1. Functional analysis revealed that MTRES1 associates with mitochondrial RNA polymerase POLRMT and acts by increasing mitochondrial transcription, without changing the stability of mitochondrial RNAs. We propose that MTRES1 is an example of a protein that protects the cell from mitochondrial RNA loss during stress.
© The Author(s) 2019. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Nucleic Acids Research.