Privileged proteins with a second residence: dual targeting and conditional re-routing of mitochondrial proteins

Ophry Pines, Margalit Horwitz, Johannes M. Herrmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Almost all mitochondrial proteins are encoded by nuclear genes and synthesized in the cytosol as precursor proteins. Signals in the amino acid sequence of these precursors ensure their targeting and translocation into mitochondria. However, in many cases, only a certain fraction of a specific protein is transported into mitochondria, while the rest either remains in the cytosol or undergoes reverse translocation to the cytosol, and can populate other cellular compartments. This phenomenon is called dual localization which can be instigated by different mechanisms. These include alternative start or stop codons, differential transcripts, and ambiguous or competing targeting sequences. In many cases, dual localization might serve as an economic strategy to reduce the number of required genes; for example, when the same groups of enzymes are required both in mitochondria and chloroplasts or both in mitochondria and the nucleus/cytoplasm. Such cases frequently employ ambiguous targeting sequences to distribute proteins between both organelles. However, alternative localizations can also be used for signaling, for example when non-imported precursors serve as mitophagy signals or when they represent transcription factors in the nucleus to induce the mitochondrial unfolded stress response. This review provides an overview regarding the mechanisms and the physiological consequences of dual targeting.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFEBS Journal
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). The FEBS Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Federation of European Biochemical Societies.


  • dual targeting
  • mitochondria
  • protein import
  • start codon
  • targeting signals


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