Mitochondrial Import Efficiency of ATFS-1 Regulates Mitochondrial UPR Activation

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Science  03 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6094, pp. 587-590
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223560

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Initiating Mitochondrial Repair

The mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPRmt) mediates the up-regulation of nuclear encoded mitochondrial chaperone genes in response to mitochondrial dysfunction. How mitochondrial dysfunction is communicated to the nucleus is unclear, but requires the transcription factor, ATFS-1. Nargund et al. (p. 587, published online 14 June) found that the key point of regulation in UPRmt signaling is mitochondrial protein import efficiency of ATFS-1. In addition to a nuclear localization sequence (NLS), ATFS-1 has a mitochondrial targeting sequence (MTS) that is necessary for UPRmt repression. ATFS-1 is normally imported efficiently into mitochondria and degraded by the Lon protease. However, in the presence of stress, some ATFS-1 fails to be imported into mitochondria and is trafficked to the nucleus. The juxtaposition of a C-terminal NLS to an N-terminal MTS in a transcriptional activator thus couples unfolded protein load in the mitochondrial matrix to a rectifying transcriptional response in the nucleus.


To better understand the response to mitochondrial dysfunction, we examined the mechanism by which ATFS-1 (activating transcription factor associated with stress–1) senses mitochondrial stress and communicates with the nucleus during the mitochondrial unfolded protein response (UPRmt) in Caenorhabditis elegans. We found that the key point of regulation is the mitochondrial import efficiency of ATFS-1. In addition to a nuclear localization sequence, ATFS-1 has an N-terminal mitochondrial targeting sequence that is essential for UPRmt repression. Normally, ATFS-1 is imported into mitochondria and degraded. However, during mitochondrial stress, we found that import efficiency was reduced, allowing a percentage of ATFS-1 to accumulate in the cytosol and traffic to the nucleus. Our results show that cells monitor mitochondrial import efficiency via ATFS-1 to coordinate the level of mitochondrial dysfunction with the protective transcriptional response.

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