Bacterial tail anchors can target to the mitochondrial outer membrane

Lutfullahoğlu-Bal, Güleycan; Keskin, Abdurrahman; Seferoğlu, Ayşe B.; Dunn, Cory D.

During the generation and evolution of the eukaryotic cell, a proteobacterial endosymbiont was re-fashioned into the mitochondrion, an organelle that appears to have been present in the ancestor of all present-day eukaryotes. Mitochondria harbor proteomes derived from coding information located both inside and outside the organelle, and the rate-limiting step toward the formation of eukaryotic cells may have been development of an import apparatus allowing protein entry to mitochondria. Currently, a widely conserved translocon allows proteins to pass from the cytosol into mitochondria, but how proteins encoded outside of mitochondria were first directed to these organelles at the dawn of eukaryogenesis is not clear. Because several proteins targeted by a carboxyl-terminal tail anchor (TA) appear to have the ability to insert spontaneously into the mitochondrial outer membrane (OM), it is possible that self-inserting, tail-anchored polypeptides obtained from bacteria might have formed the first gate allowing proteins to access mitochondria from the cytosol.

Here, we tested whether bacterial TAs are capable of targeting to mitochondria. In a survey of proteins encoded by the proteobacterium Escherichia coli, predicted TA sequences were directed to specific subcellular locations within the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Importantly, TAs obtained from DUF883 family members ElaB and YqjD were abundantly localized to and inserted at the mitochondrial OM.

Our results support the notion that eukaryotic cells are able to utilize membrane-targeting signals present in bacterial proteins obtained by lateral gene transfer, and our findings make plausible a model in which mitochondrial protein translocation was first driven by tail-anchored proteins.

This article was reviewed by Michael Ryan and Thomas Simmen.


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Biological Sciences
Published Here
November 13, 2017


Keywords: Protein targeting, Membrane insertion, Eukaryogenesis, Organelle biogenesis, Endosymbiosis