Fluorescence-mediated analysis of mitochondrial preprotein import in vitro
Mitochondrial biogenesis is a crucial element of the functional maintenance of a eukaryotic cell. The organelle must import the majority of its proteins from the cytosol where they are synthesized as precursors. In vitro import assays have been developed in which isolated mitochondria are incubated with precursor proteins, that are generated either by in vitro translation systems or by expression and purification as recombinant proteins. The detection of imported proteins is performed by autoradiography or by Western blot. We have now established a novel detection system for imported precursor proteins that is based on fluorescent labeling. We constructed a mitochondrial preprotein containing a C-terminal SNAP-tag that can label itself with a single fluorescein molecule in an enzymatic reaction. The fluorescent preproteins were efficiently imported into isolated mitochondria and showed kinetic behavior similar to that of standard preproteins. The fluorescence detection was sensitive and significantly faster than other comparable procedures. We also showed that precursor proteins containing a SNAP-tag domain could be successfully labeled in a postimport reaction in intact mitochondria. In summary, the use of a reporter domain modified with a fluorescent dye provides a novel, sensitive, and fast detection method to analyze the properties of the mitochondrial import reaction in vitro.