The mechanism of import of phosphatidylserine (PtdSer) into mitochondria was investigated using a reconstituted system of isolated organelles in vitroin which PtdSer was translocated from donor membranes to mitochondria and was decarboxylated therein. Neither phosphatidylcholine nor phosphatidylethanolamine (PtdEtn) was translocated under the same conditions. Transfer of PtdSer from its site of synthesis on the endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria-associated membranes [J. E. Vance (1990) J. Biol. Chem. 265, 7248–7256] to its site of decarboxylation on mitochondrial inner membranes is predicted to be mediated by membrane contact. A mitochondrial membrane protein appears to be involved in the translocation event since proteolysis of proteins exposed on the mitochondrial surface potently inhibited PtdSer transfer, whereas proteolysis of surface proteins of mitochondria-associated membranes did not impair the transfer. The nature of the membranes that donate PtdSer to mitochondria in vitrois not crucial since PtdSer of mitochondria-associated membranes, endoplasmic reticulum and microsomes was decarboxylated to PtdEtn with approximately equal efficiency. The translocation of PtdSer to mitochondria was stimulated by magnesium and calcium ions and was inhibited by incubation of mitochondria with sulphydryl group-modifying reagents. Reconstitution of PtdSer translocation/decarboxylation using digitonin-solubilized mitochondria and PtdSer-donor membranes suggested that the putative PtdSer-translocation protein is primarily localized to contract sites between mitochondrial inner and outer membranes. These studies provide evidence for the involvement of a mitochondrial membrane protein in the import of newly-synthesized PtdSer into mitochondria.

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