To test the hypothesis that 70-kD mitochondrial heat shock protein (mt-hsp70) has a dual role in membrane translocation of preproteins we screened preproteins in an attempt to find examples which required either only the unfoldase or only the translocase function of mt-hsp70. We found that a series of fusion proteins containing amino-terminal portions of the intermembrane space protein cytochrome b2 (cyt. b2) fused to dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) were differentially imported into mitochondria containing mutant hsp70s. A fusion protein between the amino-terminal 167 residues of the precursor of cyt. b2 and DHFR was efficiently transported into mitochondria independently of both hsp70 functions. When the length of the cyt. b2 portion was increased and included the heme binding domain, the fusion protein became dependent on the unfoldase function of mt-hsp70, presumably caused by a conformational restriction of the heme-bound preprotein. In the absence of heme the noncovalent heme binding domain in the longer fusion proteins no longer conferred a dependence on the unfoldase function. When the cyt. b2 portion of the fusion protein was less than 167 residues, its import was still independent of mt-hsp70 function; however, deletion of the intermembrane space sorting signal resulted in preproteins that ended up in the matrix of wild-type mitochondria and whose translocation was strictly dependent on the translocase function of mt-hsp70. These findings provide strong evidence for a dual role of mt-hsp70 in membrane translocation and indicate that preproteins with an intermembrane space sorting signal can be correctly imported even in mutants with severely impaired hsp70 function.

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