HeLa cell mitochondrial proteins have been shown to be the products of two separate protein-synthesizing systems; one, the general cellular mechanism, sensitive to inhibition by cycloheximide, the other, a specific mitochondrial system subject to inhibition by low concentrations of chloramphenicol (Galper, J. B., and J. E. Darnell. 1971. J. Mol. Biol 57:363). Preliminary data have suggested that a mitochondrial N-formyl-methionyl-tRNA (f-Met-tRNA) might be the initiator tRNA in the latter (Galper, J. B., and J. E. Darnell. 1969. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 34:205; 1971. J. Mol. Biol. 57:363).
It is demonstrated here that the synthesis of these endogenous mitochondrial proteins is also subject to inhibition by ethidium bromide and decays with a half-life of 1½–2 h in cultures incubated with low concentrations of this dye. The role of formylated f-Met-tRNA as the initiator tRNA in the synthesis of mitochondrial proteins is supported by data from several experiments. The rates of ethidium bromide inhibition of both the charging of f-Met-tRNA and of the synthesis of mitochondrial proteins are strikingly similar. Inhibition by aminopterin of the formylation of f-Met-tRNA greatly depresses the rate of mitochondrial-specific protein synthesis. In the absence of the synthesis of these proteins, respiration, the levels of cytochromes a–a3 and b, and the number of mitochondrial cristae are decreased. The implications of these findings as they relate to mitochondrial biogenesis are discussed.