Researchers from The Johns Hopkins University's Integrated Imaging Center; the University of California, Davis; and the California Institute of Technology collaborated on two new studies analyzing the mechanisms and proteins that underlie the fission-fusion cycle of the cellular powerplants, called mitochondria. Their findings were published in two recent issues of the journal Science.
"To understand the role that mitochondria play in both normal and aberrant cell biology, it is essential to first understand the fusion-fission process that occurs continuously in normal, healthy cells," said J. Michael McCaffery, a research scientist in the Johns Hopkins Department of Biology, director of the Integrated Imaging Center, and an author on both studies.
Mitochondria constantly split and recombine and as cells divide, they pass along to each "daughter" cell the full complement of mitochondria necessary for healthy cell physiology. Recent research suggests that when this process goes awry, healthy cells die, resulting in diseases ranging from optic atrophy (the most common inherited form of blindness), to Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (a disease in which nerves in the hands, feet and lower legs die off), to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases (which arise from neurodegenerative cell death), and even to some types of cancer.
Until now, though, understanding of those diseases was greatly limited by a lack of knowledge about the mitochondrial fusion portion of the cycle.
"Fusion of single membranes is a well-delineated process, involving well-known, well-studied proteins," McCaffery said. "However, the same cannot be said for mitochondrial f
Contact: Lisa DeNike
Johns Hopkins University