Mitochondrial preornithine transcarbamylase (p-OTC) and premalate dehydrogenase (p-MDH) are the only two matrix-located preproteins so far identified for which the proteolytic processing in vitro requires the formation of genuine processing intermediates, i-OTC and i-MDH, respectively. To establish the processing of other preproteins during import with respect to the two-step processing of p-OTC and p-MDH, the chelators EDTA and 1,10-phenanthroline were used to study the import and processing of rat prechaperonin 60 (p-cpn60) and p-OTC by mitochondria from four cpn60-containing organs. We found no evidence for a secondary processing step in the maturation of p-cpn60, but a clear requirement for two-step processing of p-OTC, even in three organs which do not contain ornithine transcarbamylase. The metal-ion requirement of the p-OTC processing activities in the organelle is consistent with the proposition that the mitochondrial processing protease (MPP) and mitochondrial intermediate peptidase (MIP) activities defined in vitro [Kalousek, F., Hendrick, J.P. & Rosenberg, L. E. (1988) Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 85, 7536-7540] are responsible for precursor processing in vivo. The authenticity of two-step processing in vivo was, furthermore, established by demonstrating that i-OTC accumulates to high levels in Spodoptora frugiperda insect cells supplemented with MnCl2. The inability of the insect cells to process p-OTC fully is not a characteristic of cells grown in culture since cultured rat hepatoma cells process p-OTC to the fully processed m-OTC. Finally, we find that the import and processing of p-cpn60 and p-OTC is inhibited in an identical fashion by presequence-bovine-serum-albumin conjugates. The differences in proteolytic maturation between p-cpn60 and p-OTC are therefore not likely to result from different import pathways as the two precursors compete for common components of the import apparatus.