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Fessler, Evelyn ORCID: 0000-0002-5978-8256; Krumwiede, Luisa ORCID: 0000-0001-5695-1575; Jae, Lucas T. ORCID: 0000-0002-3531-1760 (2022): DELE1 tracks perturbed protein import and processing in human mitochondria. Nature Communications, 13: 1853. ISSN 2041-1723

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Protein homeostatic control of mitochondria is key to age-related diseases and organismal decline. However, it is unknown how the diverse types of stress experienced by mitochondria can be integrated and appropriately responded to in human cells. Here we identify perturbations in the ancient conserved processes of mitochondrial protein import and processing as sources of DELE1 activation: DELE1 is continuously sorted across both mitochondrial membranes into the matrix and detects different types of perturbations along the way. DELE1 molecules in transit can become licensed for mitochondrial release and stress signaling through proteolytic removal of N-terminal sorting signals. Import defects that occur at the mitochondrial surface allow DELE1 precursors to bind and activate downstream factor HRI without the need for cleavage. Genome-wide genetics reveal that DELE1 additionally responds to compromised presequence processing by the matrix proteases PITRM1 and MPP, which are mutated in neurodegenerative diseases. These mechanisms rationalize DELE1-dependent mitochondrial stress integration in the human system and may inform future therapies of neuropathies.

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