A distinct class of proteins contain a C-terminal membrane anchor and a cytoplasmic functional domain. A subset of these proteins is targeted to the mitochondrial outer membrane. Here, to probe for the involvement of a saturable targeting mechanism for this class of proteins, and to elucidate the roles of chaperone proteins and ATP, we have utilized an in vitro targeting system consisting of in vitro-synthesized proteins and isolated mitochondria. To establish the specificity of targeting we have used a closely related protein pair. VAMP-1A and VAMP-1B are splice variants of the vesicle-associated membrane protein/synaptobrevin-1 (VAMP-1) gene. In intact cells VAMP-1B is targeted to mitochondria whereas VAMP-1A is targeted to membranes of the secretory pathway, yet these isoforms differ by only five amino acids at the extreme C-terminus. Here we demonstrate that, in vitro, VAMP-1B is imported into both intact mitochondria and mitochondrial outer-membrane vesicles with a 15-fold greater efficiency than VAMP-1A. We generated and purified bacterially expressed fusion proteins consisting of the C-terminal two-thirds of VAMP-1A or -1B proteins fused to glutathione S-transferase (GST). Using these fusion proteins we demonstrate that protein targeting and insertion is saturable and specific for the VAMP-1B membrane anchor. To elucidate the role of cytosolic chaperones on VAMP-1B targeting, we also used the purified, Escherichia coli-derived fusion proteins. 33P-Labelled GST-VAMP-1B61-116, but not GST-VAMP-1A61-118, was efficiently targeted to mitochondria in a chaperone-free system. Thus the information required for targeting is contained within the targeted protein itself and not the chaperone or a chaperone-protein complex, although chaperones may be required to maintain a transport-competent conformation. Moreover, ATP was required for transport only in the presence of cytosolic chaperone proteins. Therefore the ATP requirement of transport appears to reflect the participation of chaperones and not any other ATP-dependent step. These data demonstrate that targeting of C-terminally anchored proteins to mitochondria is sequence specific and mediated by a saturable mechanism. Neither ATP nor chaperone proteins are strictly required for either specific targeting or membrane insertion.

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