A gene cloning strategy based on the screening of the Expressed Sequence Tags database (dbEST) using sequences of mitochondrial housekeeping proteins of yeast was employed to identify the cDNA encoding the precursor of the human mitochondrial RNA polymerase (h-mtRPOL). The 3831 bp h-mtRPOL cDNA is located on chromosome 19p13.3 and encodes a protein of 1230 amino acid residues. The protein sequence shows significant homologies with sequences corresponding to mitochondrial RNA polymerases from lower eukaryotes, and to RNA polymerases from several bacteriophages. The mitochondrial RNA polymerase carries out the central activity of mitochondrial gene expression and, by providing the RNA primers for replication-initiation, is also implicated in the maintenance and propagation of the mitochondrial genome. Genes involved in the control of mtDNA replication and gene expression are attractive candidates for human disorders due to abnormalities of nucleo-mitochondrial intergenomic signalling. The availability of the h-mtRPOL cDNA will allow us to test its role in mitochondrial pathology. In addition, we propose the 'cyberscreening' of dbEST, based on yeast/human cross-species comparison, as a powerful, simple, rapid and inexpensive method, that may accelerate several-fold the molecular dissection of the human mitochondrial proteome.
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