Mitochondrial proteins with N-terminal targeting signals are transported across the inner membrane via the presequence translocase, which consists of membrane-integrated channel proteins and the matrix Hsp70 import motor. It has not been known how preproteins are directed to the import channel. We have identified the essential protein Tim50, which exposes its major domain to the intermembrane space. Tim50 interacts with preproteins in transit and directs them to the channel protein Tim23. Inactivation of Tim50 strongly inhibits the import of preproteins with a classical matrix-targeting signal, while preproteins carrying an additional inner membrane-sorting signal do not strictly depend on Tim50. Thus, Tim50 is crucial for guiding the precursors of matrix proteins to their insertion site in the inner membrane.
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