We have isolated a soluble import-competent 15 kDa N-terminal fragment of the overexpressed Nicotiana plumbaginifolia F1β precursor of the ATP synthase (N15pF1β). The isolation was achieved after chemical cleavage, with CNBr, of the insoluble precursor collected in inclusion bodies, followed by purification of the fragment using ion-exchange chromatography. The purity of the final product was estimated to be more than 99%. N15pF1β contained a presequence of 54 amino acid residues (except for the N-terminal methionine residue) and 82 N-terminal residues of the mature protein. N15pF1β was shown to be imported into isolated potato tuber mitochondria and to be processed by the isolated mitochondrial processing peptidase (MPP) integrated into the cytochrome bc1 complex of the respiratory chain. Addition of N15pF1β at micromolar concentrations resulted in the inhibition of import of F1β precursor and alternative oxidase precursor, synthesized in vitro, into isolated mitochondria as well as the processing of these precursors catalysed by the isolated MPP-bc1 complex. N15pF1β conjugated via a biotin link to avidin blocked import sites even after the reisolation of mitochondria and inhibited the import of the mitochondrial precursors, indicating that it can be used as a substrate for the generation of a stable translocation intermediate. Our results present a novel procedure for the production of an N-terminal fragment of the F1β precursor that contains all information necessary for mitochondrial targeting and processing and that can be used for structural and functional studies of the mitochondrial protein import system. This procedure has a general value because it can be used for the production of chemical quantities of any mitochondrial import substrate and presequence peptide.

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