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Mitochondrial Nucleoids Maintain Genetic Autonomy But Allow For Functional Complementation

R. W. Gilkerson, E. Schon, E. Hernández, M. Davidson
Published 2008 · Biology, Medicine

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Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is packaged into DNA-protein assemblies called nucleoids, but the mode of mtDNA propagation via the nucleoid remains controversial. Two mechanisms have been proposed: nucleoids may consistently maintain their mtDNA content faithfully, or nucleoids may exchange mtDNAs dynamically. To test these models directly, two cell lines were fused, each homoplasmic for a partially deleted mtDNA in which the deletions were nonoverlapping and each deficient in mitochondrial protein synthesis, thus allowing the first unequivocal visualization of two mtDNAs at the nucleoid level. The two mtDNAs transcomplemented to restore mitochondrial protein synthesis but were consistently maintained in discrete nucleoids that did not intermix stably. These results indicate that mitochondrial nucleoids tightly regulate their genetic content rather than freely exchanging mtDNAs. This genetic autonomy provides a molecular mechanism to explain patterns of mitochondrial genetic inheritance, in addition to facilitating therapeutic methods to eliminate deleterious mtDNA mutations.
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