Carnation Italian ringspot tombusvirus encodes a protein, referred to as 36K, that possesses a mitochondrial targeting signal and two transmembrane segments which are thought to anchor this protein to the outer membrane of the mitochondrial envelope of infected plant cells. To determine the topology of the virus protein inserted in the cell membrane, as well as the sequence requirements for targeting and insertion, an system was set up in which this could be analysed in the absence of productive virus infection. The 36K protein was expressed in the yeast in native form or fused to the green fluorescent protein. Using a fluorescence microscope, large green-fluorescing cytoplasmic aggregates were visible which stained red when cells were treated with the vital stain MitoTracker, which is specific for mitochondria. These aggregates were shown by electron microscopy to be composed of either mitochondria or membranes. The latter type was particularly abundant for the construct in which the green fluorescent protein was fused at the N terminus of the 36K protein. Immunoelectron microscopy demonstrated that the viral protein is present in the anomalous aggregates and Western blot analysis of protein extracts showed 36K to be resistant to alkaline, urea or salt extraction, a property of integral membrane proteins.


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