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Curr Biol. April 22, 2008; 18 (8): 586-91.

Spatial patterning of metabolism by mitochondria, oxygen, and energy sinks in a model cytoplasm.

Niethammer P , Kueh HY , Mitchison TJ .

Metabolite gradients might guide mitochondrial localization in cells and angiogenesis in tissues. It is unclear whether they can exist in single cells, because the length scale of most cells is small compared to the expected diffusion times of metabolites. For investigation of metabolic gradients, we need experimental systems in which spatial patterns of metabolism can be systematically measured and manipulated. We used concentrated cytoplasmic extracts from Xenopus eggs as a model cytoplasm, and visualized metabolic gradients formed in response to spatial stimuli. Restriction of oxygen supply to the edge of a drop mimicked distance to the surface of a single cell, or distance from a blood vessel in tissue. We imaged a step-like increase of Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) reduction approximately 600 microm distant from the oxygen source. This oxic-anoxic switch was preceded on the oxic side by a gradual rise of mitochondrial transmembrane potential (Deltapsi) and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, extending over approximately 600 microm and approximately 300 microm, respectively. Addition of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-consuming beads mimicked local energy sinks in the cell. We imaged Deltapsi gradients with a decay length of approximately 50-300 microm around these beads, in the first visualization of an energy demand signaling gradient. Our study demonstrates that mitochondria can pattern the cytoplasm over length scales that are suited to convey morphogenetic information in large cells and tissues and provides a versatile model system for probing of the formation and function of metabolic gradients.

PubMed ID: 18406136
PMC ID: PMC2902971
Article link: Curr Biol.
Grant support: R01 GM039565-21 NIGMS NIH HHS , R01 GM039565 NIGMS NIH HHS

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