Monitoring Mitochondrial Protein Import Using Mitochondrial Targeting Sequence (MTS)-eGFP

Bio Protoc. 2022 Dec 20;12(24):e4578. doi: 10.21769/BioProtoc.4578.


Mitochondria are cellular organelles essential for the function and survival of eukaryotic cells. Nearly all mitochondrial proteins are nuclear-encoded and require mitochondrial import upon their synthesis in the cytosol. Various approaches have been described to study mitochondrial protein import, such as monitoring the entry of radiolabeled proteins into purified mitochondria or quantifying newly synthesized proteins within mitochondria by proteomics. Here, we provide a detailed protocol for a commonly used and straightforward assay that quantitatively examines mitochondrial protein import by monitoring the co-localization of mitochondrially targeted enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) with the mitochondrial fluorescence dye MitoTracker TM Deep Red FM by live cell imaging. We describe the preparation and use of a stable mammalian cell line inducibly expressing a mitochondrial targeting sequence (MTS)-eGFP, followed by quantitative image analysis using an open-source ImageJ-based plugin. This inducible expression system avoids the need for transient transfection while enabling titration of MTS-eGFP expression and thereby avoiding protein folding stress. Overall, the assay provides a simple and robust approach to assess mitochondrial import capacity of cells in various disease-related settings. This protocol was validated in: Mol Cell (2021), DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.11.004 Graphical abstract.

Keywords: Live cell imaging; Microscopy; Mitochondria; Mitochondrial protein import; Protein translocation.