Nucleic Acids Res. 2019 Sep 19;47(16):8720-8733. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkz559.
Expression of human mitochondrial DNA is indispensable for proper function of the oxidative phosphorylation machinery. The mitochondrial genome encodes 22 tRNAs, 2 rRNAs and 11 mRNAs and their post-transcriptional modification constitutes one of the key regulatory steps during mitochondrial gene expression. Cytosine-5 methylation (m5C) has been detected in mitochondrial transcriptome, however its biogenesis has not been investigated in details. Mammalian NOP2/Sun RNA Methyltransferase Family Member 2 (NSUN2) has been characterized as an RNA methyltransferase introducing m5C in nuclear-encoded tRNAs, mRNAs and microRNAs and associated with cell proliferation and differentiation, with pathogenic variants in NSUN2 being linked to neurodevelopmental disorders. Here we employ spatially restricted proximity labelling and immunodetection to demonstrate that NSUN2 is imported into the matrix of mammalian mitochondria. Using three genetic models for NSUN2 inactivation-knockout mice, patient-derived fibroblasts and CRISPR/Cas9 knockout in human cells-we show that NSUN2 is necessary for the generation of m5C at positions 48, 49 and 50 of several mammalian mitochondrial tRNAs. Finally, we show that inactivation of NSUN2 does not have a profound effect on mitochondrial tRNA stability and oxidative phosphorylation in differentiated cells. We discuss the importance of the newly discovered function of NSUN2 in the context of human disease.