To identify the membrane regions through which yeast mitochondria import proteins from the cytoplasm, we have tagged these regions with two different partly translocated precursor proteins. One of these was bound to the mitochondrial surface of ATP-depleted mitochondria and could subsequently be chased into mitochondria upon addition of ATP. The other intermediate was irreversibly stuck across both mitochondrial membranes at protein import sites. Upon subfraction of the mitochondria, both intermediates cofractionated with membrane vesicles whose buoyant density was between that of inner and outer membranes. When these vesicles were prepared from mitochondria containing the chaseable intermediate, they internalized it upon addition of ATP. A non-hydrolyzable ATP analogue was inactive. This vesicle fraction contained closed, right-side-out inner membrane vesicles attached to leaky outer membrane vesicles. The vesicles contained the mitochondrial binding sites for cytoplasmic ribosomes and contained several mitochondrial proteins that were enriched relative to markers of inner or outer membranes. By immunoelectron microscopy, two of these proteins were concentrated at sites where mitochondrial inner and outer membranes are closely apposed. We conclude that these vesicles contain contact sites between the two mitochondrial membranes, that these sites are the entry point for proteins into mitochondria, and that the isolated vesicles are still translocation competent.

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