The parasitic protozoa Trypanosoma brucei has a complex life cycle. Oxidative phosphorylation is highly active in the procyclic form but absent from bloodstream cells. The mitochondrial genome encodes several gene products that are required for oxidative phosphorylation, but it completely lacks tRNA genes. For mitochondrial translation to occur, the import of cytosolic tRNAs is therefore essential for procyclic T. brucei. Whether the same is true for the bloodstream form has not been studied so far. Here we show that the steady-state levels of mitochondrial tRNAs are essentially the same in both life stages. Editing of the imported tRNA(Trp) also occurs in both forms as well as in mitochondria of Trypanosoma evansi, which lacks a genome and a translation system. These results show that mitochondrial tRNA import is a constitutive process that must be mediated by proteins that are expressed in both forms of the life cycle and that are not encoded in the mitochondrial genome. Moreover, bloodstream cells lacking either mitochondria-specific translation elongation factor Tu or mitochondrial tryptophanyl-tRNA synthetase are not viable indicating that mitochondrial translation is also essential in this stage. Both of these proteins show trypanosomatid-specific features and may therefore be excellent novel drug targets.
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