Evidence Supporting an Antimicrobial Origin of Targeting Peptides to Endosymbiotic Organelles

Cells. 2020 Jul 28;9(8):1795. doi: 10.3390/cells9081795.


Mitochondria and chloroplasts emerged from primary endosymbiosis. Most proteins of the endosymbiont were subsequently expressed in the nucleo-cytosol of the host and organelle-targeted via the acquisition of N-terminal presequences, whose evolutionary origin remains enigmatic. Using a quantitative assessment of their physico-chemical properties, we show that organelle targeting peptides, which are distinct from signal peptides targeting other subcellular compartments, group with a subset of antimicrobial peptides. We demonstrate that extant antimicrobial peptides target a fluorescent reporter to either the mitochondria or the chloroplast in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and, conversely, that extant targeting peptides still display antimicrobial activity. Thus, we provide strong computational and functional evidence for an evolutionary link between organelle-targeting and antimicrobial peptides. Our results support the view that resistance of bacterial progenitors of organelles to the attack of host antimicrobial peptides has been instrumental in eukaryogenesis and in the emergence of photosynthetic eukaryotes.

Keywords: Chlamydomonas; antimicrobial peptides; chloroplast; import into organelles; mitochondrion; primary endosymbiosis; targeting peptides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Organelles / metabolism*
  • Peptides / metabolism*
  • Symbiosis / genetics*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Peptides