Published on Dec. 1, 2021 in volume None.
A subset of eukaryotic tRNAs is methylated in the anticodon loop to form the 3-methylcytosine (m3C) modification. In mammals, the number of tRNAs containing m3C has expanded to include mitochondrial (mt) tRNA-Ser-UGA and mt-tRNA-Thr-UGU. Whereas the enzymes catalyzing m3C formation in nuclear-encoded cytoplasmic tRNAs have been identified, the proteins responsible for m3C modification in mt-tRNAs are unknown. Here, we show that m3C formation in human mt-tRNAs is dependent upon the Methyltransferase-Like 8 (METTL8) enzyme. We find that METTL8 is a mitochondria-associated protein that interacts with mitochondrial seryl-tRNA synthetase along with mt-tRNAs containing m3C. Human cells deficient in METTL8 exhibit loss of m3C modification in mt-tRNAs but not nuclear-encoded tRNAs. Consistent with the mitochondrial import of METTL8, the formation of m3C in METTL8-deficient cells can be rescued by re-expression of wildtype METTL8 but not by a METTL8 variant lacking the N-terminal mitochondrial localization signal. Notably, METTL8-deficiency in human cells causes alterations in the native migration pattern of mt-tRNA-Ser-UGA suggesting a role for m3C in tRNA folding. Altogether, these findings demonstrate that METTL8 is required for m3C formation in mitochondrial tRNAs and uncover a potential role for m3C modification in mitochondrial tRNA structure.