The mitochondrial proteins involved in adrenocortical steroidogenesis are synthesized as higher molecular weight precursors which require processing by the mitochondria to their mature sizes. The post-translational maturation of two of these proteins has been examined: the cholesterol side chain cleavage cytochrome P-450 (P-450scc) and the iron-sulfur protein, adrenodoxin. Total translation products synthesized in a cell-free system programmed by bovine adrenocortical poly(A+) RNA were incubated with isolated bovine adrenocortical or heart mitochondria followed by immunoisolation of radiolabeled P-450scc or adrenodoxin. In the presence of adrenocortical mitochondria, the precursor form of P-450scc was converted into a trypsin-resistant form that had the same molecular weight as mature P-450scc. Unlike adrenocortical mitochondria, heart mitochondria were unable to process the P-450scc precursor which remained unaltered and trypsin-sensitive. In addition, a matrix fraction of heart mitochondria did not cleave the P-450scc precursor. In contrast, the adrenodoxin precursor did not exhibit similar specificity as it was processed to the mature form by both adrenocortical and heart mitochondria. Also, the adrenocortical mitochondria were not restricted to processing endogenous proteins as they imported and cleaved the precursor to ornithine transcarbamylase. The results indicate that some mitochondrial precursor proteins have tertiary structures which allow them to be recognized by all mitochondria while other mitochondrial precursor proteins have structures recognizable by only specialized mitochondria.