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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mitochondrial localization of human frataxin is necessary but processing is not for rescuing frataxin deficiency in Trypanosoma brucei.

  • Author(s): Long, Shaojun
  • Jirku, Milan
  • Ayala, Francisco J
  • Lukes, Julius
  • et al.

Trypanosoma brucei, the agent of human sleeping sickness and ruminant nagana, is the most genetically tractable representative of the domain Excavata. It is evolutionarily very distant from humans, with a last common ancestor over 1 billion years ago. Frataxin, a highly conserved small protein involved in iron-sulfur cluster synthesis, is present in both organisms, and its deficiency is responsible for Friedreich's ataxia in humans. We have found that T. brucei growth-inhibition phenotype caused by down-regulated frataxin is rescued by means of human frataxin. The rescue is fully dependent on the human frataxin being imported into the trypanosome mitochondrion. Processing of the imported protein by mitochondrial processing peptidase can be blocked by mutations in the signal peptide, as in human cells. Although in human cells frataxin must be processed to execute its function, the same protein in the T. brucei mitochondrion is functional even in the absence of processing. Our results illuminate remarkable conservation of the mechanisms of mitochondrial protein import and processing.

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