The single CCA-adding enzyme of T. brucei has distinct functions in the cytosol and in mitochondria

J Biol Chem. 2020 May 1;295(18):6138-6150. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.011877. Epub 2020 Mar 31.


tRNAs universally carry a CCA nucleotide triplet at their 3'-ends. In eukaryotes, the CCA is added post-transcriptionally by the CCA-adding enzyme (CAE). The mitochondrion of the parasitic protozoan Trypanosoma brucei lacks tRNA genes and therefore imports all of its tRNAs from the cytosol. This has generated interest in the tRNA modifications and their distribution in this organism, including how CCA is added to tRNAs. Here, using a BLAST search for genes encoding putative CAE proteins in T. brucei, we identified a single ORF, Tb927.9.8780, as a potential candidate. Knockdown of this putative protein, termed TbCAE, resulted in the accumulation of truncated tRNAs, abolished translation, and inhibited both total and mitochondrial CCA-adding activities, indicating that TbCAE is located both in the cytosol and mitochondrion. However, mitochondrially localized tRNAs were much less affected by the TbCAE ablation than the other tRNAs. Complementation assays revealed that the N-terminal 10 amino acids of TbCAE are dispensable for its activity and mitochondrial localization and that deletion of 10 further amino acids abolishes both. A growth arrest caused by the TbCAE knockdown was rescued by the expression of the cytosolic isoform of yeast CAE, even though it was not imported into mitochondria. This finding indicated that the yeast enzyme complements the essential function of TbCAE by adding CCA to the primary tRNA transcripts. Of note, ablation of the mitochondrial TbCAE activity, which likely has a repair function, only marginally affected growth.

Keywords: RNA interference (RNAi); RNA processing; Trypanosoma brucei; mitochondria; mitochondrial tRNA import; transfer RNA (tRNA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cytosol / enzymology*
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Transport
  • RNA Nucleotidyltransferases / metabolism*
  • RNA, Transfer / metabolism
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae / cytology
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / cytology*
  • Trypanosoma brucei brucei / enzymology*


  • RNA, Transfer
  • RNA Nucleotidyltransferases
  • tRNA nucleotidyltransferase