The mitochondrial phosphate carrier (PiC) is a member of the family of inner-membrane carrier proteins which are generally synthesized without a cleavable presequence. Surprisingly, the cDNA sequences of bovine and rat PiC suggested the existence of an amino-terminal extension sequence in the precursor of PiC. By expressing PiC in vitro, we found that PiC is indeed synthesized as a larger precursor. This precursor was imported and proteolytically processed by mitochondria, whereby the correct amino-terminus of the mature protein was generated. Import of PiC showed the characteristics of mitochondrial protein uptake, such as dependence on ATP and a membrane potential and involvement of contact sites between mitochondrial outer and inner membranes. The precursor imported in vitro was correctly assembled into the functional form, demonstrating that the authentic import and assembly pathway of PiC was reconstituted when starting with the presequence-carrying precursor. These results are discussed in connection with the recently postulated role of PiC as an import receptor located in the outer membrane.