Recently, we fused a matrix-targeting signal to a large fragment of vesicular stomatitis virus G protein, which contains near its COOH-terminus a well-characterized endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stop-transfer sequence; the hybrid G protein was sorted to the inner mitochondrial membrane (Nguyen, M., and G. C. Shore. 1987. J. Biol. Chem. 262:3929-3931). Here, we show that the 19 amino acid G stop-transfer domain functions in an identical fashion when inserted toward the COOH-terminus of an otherwise normal matrix precursor protein, pre-ornithine carbamyl transferase; after import, the mutant protein was found anchored in the inner membrane via the stop-transfer sequence, with its NH2 terminus facing the matrix and its short COOH-terminal tail located in the intermembrane space. However, when the G stop-transfer sequence was placed near the NH2 terminus, the protein was inserted into the outer membrane, in the reverse orientation (NH2 terminus facing out, with a large COOH-terminal fragment located in the intermembrane space). These observations for mitochondrial topogenesis can be explained by a simple extension of existing models for ER sorting.

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