The import of preproteins into mitochondria involves translocation of the polypeptide chains through putative channels in the outer and inner membranes. Preprotein-binding proteins are needed to drive the unidirectional translocation of the precursor polypeptides. Two of these preprotein-binding proteins are the peripheral inner membrane protein MIM44 and the matrix heat shock protein hsp70. We report here that MIM44 is mainly exposed on the matrix side, and a fraction of mt-hsp70 is reversibly bound to the inner membrane. Mt-hsp70 binds to MIM44 in a 1:1 ratio, suggesting that mt-hsp70 is localizing to the membrane via its interaction with MIM44. Formation of the complex requires a functional ATPase domain of mt-hsp70. Addition of Mg-ATP leads to dissociation of the complex. Overexpression of mt-hsp70 rescues the protein import defect of mutants in MIM44; conversely, overexpression of MIM44 rescues protein import defects of mt-hsp70 mutants. In addition, yeast strains with conditional mutations in both MIM44 and mt-hsp70 are barely viable, showing a synthetic growth defect compared to strains carrying single mutations. We propose that MIM44 and mt-hsp70 cooperate in translocation of preproteins. By binding to MIM44, mt-hsp70 is recruited at the protein import sites of the inner membrane, and preproteins arriving at MIM44 may be directly handed over to mt-hsp70.

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