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Super-resolution Microscopy Reveals That Mammalian Mitochondrial Nucleoids Have A Uniform Size And Frequently Contain A Single Copy Of MtDNA

Christian Kukat, C. Wurm, H. Spåhr, M. Falkenberg, N. Larsson, S. Jakobs
Published 2011 · Biology, Medicine

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Mammalian mtDNA is packaged in DNA-protein complexes denoted mitochondrial nucleoids. The organization of the nucleoid is a very fundamental question in mitochondrial biology and will determine tissue segregation and transmission of mtDNA. We have used a combination of stimulated emission depletion microscopy, enabling a resolution well below the diffraction barrier, and molecular biology to study nucleoids in a panel of mammalian tissue culture cells. We report that the nucleoids labeled with antibodies against DNA, mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM), or incorporated BrdU, have a defined, uniform mean size of ∼100 nm in mammals. Interestingly, the nucleoid frequently contains only a single copy of mtDNA (average ∼1.4 mtDNA molecules per nucleoid). Furthermore, we show by molecular modeling and volume calculations that TFAM is a main constituent of the nucleoid, besides mtDNA. These fundamental insights into the organization of mtDNA have broad implications for understanding mitochondrial dysfunction in disease and aging.
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