The MOM (mitochondrial outer membrane) contains SA (signal-anchored) proteins that bear at their N-terminus a single hydrophobic segment that serves as both a mitochondrial targeting signal and an anchor at the membrane. These proteins, like the vast majority of mitochondrial proteins, are encoded in the nucleus and have to be imported into the organelle. Currently, the mechanisms by which they are targeted to and inserted into the OM (outer membrane) are unclear. To shed light on these issues, we employed a recombinant version of the SA protein OM45 and a synthetic peptide corresponding to its signal-anchor segment. Both forms are associated with isolated mitochondria independently of cytosolic factors. Interaction with mitochondria was diminished when a mutated form of the signal-anchor was employed. We demonstrate that the signal-anchor peptide acquires an α-helical structure in a lipid environment and adopted a TM (transmembrane) topology within artificial lipid bilayers. Moreover, the peptide's affinity to artificial membranes with OM-like lipid composition was much higher than that of membranes with ER (endoplasmic reticulum)-like lipid composition. Collectively, our results suggest that SA proteins are specifically inserted into the MOM by a process that is not dependent on additional proteins, but is rather facilitated by the distinct lipid composition of this membrane.

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