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Anhydrobiotic animals survive virtually complete loss of cellular water. The mechanisms that explain this phenomenon are not fully understood but often include the accumulation of low molecular weight solutes such as trehalose and macromolecules like Late Embryogenesis Abundant (LEA) proteins. Here we report for the first time the occurrence of a mitochondria-targeted LEA gene (Afrlea3m) product in an animal species. The deduced molecular mass of the 307-amino acid polypeptide from the brine shrimp Artemia franciscana is 34 kDa. Bioinformatic analyses reveal features typical of a Group 3 LEA protein, and subcellular localization programs predict targeting of the mature peptide to the mitochondrial matrix, based on an N-terminal, amphipathic presequence. Real-time quantitative PCR shows that Afralea3m mRNA is expressed manyfold higher in desiccation-tolerant embryonic stages when compared with intolerant nauplius larvae. Mitochondrial localization of the protein was confirmed by transfection of human hepatoma cells (HepG2/ C3A) with a nucleotide construct encoding the first 70 N-terminal amino acids of AfrLEA3m in-frame with the nucleotide sequence for green fluorescence protein. The chimeric protein was readily incorporated into mitochondria of these cells. Successful targeting of a protein to human mitochondria by use of an arthropod signaling sequence clearly reveals the highly conserved nature of such presequences, as well as of the import machinery. Finally, mitochondria isolated from A. franciscana embryos, which naturally contain AfrLEA3m and trehalose, exhibit resistance to water stress (freezing) as evidenced by an unchanged capacity for oxidative phosphorylation on succinate + rotenone, a resistance that is absent in mammalian mitochondria lacking AfrLEA3m. © 2009 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.

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Journal of Biological Chemistry

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