In eukaryotic evolution, the earliest branch of organisms to have mitochondria are the trypanosomatids. Their mitochondrial biogenesis not only includes import of most proteins, but also, unlike in other organisms, import of the whole set of tRNAs. In order to investigate these processes, we devised novel procedures for the isolation of mitochondria from two trypanosomatid species: Trypanosoma brucei and Leishmania tarentolae. Isotonic cell lysis followed by equilibrium density centrifugation in Nycodenz gradients yielded mitochondrial fractions exhibiting a membrane potential. Furthermore, we have used these fractions to reconstitute import of mitochondrial matrix proteins in vitro. Energy-dependent uptake of an artificial precursor protein, containing a trypanosomal presequence attached to mouse dihydrofolate reductase and of yeast mitochondrial alcohol dehydrogenase could be demonstrated. The presequences of both proteins were processed in T. brucei whereas only the trypanosomal one was cleaved in L. tarentolae. Trypsin pretreatment abolished the ability of the mitochondria to import proteins, indicating the involvement of proteinaceous components at the surface of mitochondria.

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