The mitochondrial Lon protease (LonP1) regulates mitochondrial health by removing redundant proteins from the mitochondrial matrix. We determined LonP1 in eight nucleotide-dependent conformational states by cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-EM). The flexible assembly of N-terminal domains had 3-fold symmetry, and its orientation depended on the conformational state. We show that a conserved structural motif around T803 with a high similarity to the trypsin catalytic triad is essential for proteolysis. We show that LonP1 is not regulated by redox potential, despite the presence of two conserved cysteines at disulfide-bonding distance in its unfoldase core. Our data indicate how sequential ATP hydrolysis controls substrate protein translocation in a 6-fold binding change mechanism. Substrate protein translocation, rather than ATP hydrolysis, is a rate-limiting step, suggesting that LonP1 is a Brownian ratchet with ATP hydrolysis preventing translocation reversal. 3-fold rocking motions of the flexible N-domain assembly may assist thermal unfolding of the substrate protein.
Keywords: AAA+ protein; chaperone; molecular motor; proteolysis.
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