Is it possible to capture horizontal mitochondrial transfer in real time using Nanolive cell imaging?

Mitochondrial transfer

Studies have demonstrated that mitochondria and mitochondrial DNA can be transferred between cells, but the function of this, and the mechanisms involved in the transfer remain highly debated [1].

Some studies have shown that mitochondrial transfer can restore the function of defective mitochondria in recipient cells [2,3]. While other studies have demonstrated that it plays a role stem cell differentiation [4,5], and mediating inflammatory.

The structures/mechanisms involved in mitochondrial transfer are just as diverse. Tunneling nanotubes, microvesicles, mitochondrial ejection and cytoplasmic fusion are just a few of the hypotheses generated to explain mitochondrial transmission [7].

Using Nanolive live cell imaging for mitochondrial transfer observations

In this video (one image taken every 2 mins), we appear to capture intercellular transfer of mitochondria in non-perturbed pre-adipocyte cells. Our footage suggests that initial contact between cells occurs via long thin cellular extensions and that subsequent interactions involve the broad cytoplasmic projections of both cells.

If this is the case, Nanolive cell imaging may be able to shed light on the mechanisms involved in mitochondrial transfer.


[1] Paliwal S, Chaudhuri R, Agrawal A, Mohanty S. 2018. Regenerative abilities of mesenchymal stem cells through mitochondrial transfer. J. Biomed. Sci. 25(1):1-2.

[2] Spees JL, Olson SD, Whitney MJ, Prockop DJ. 2006. Mitochondrial transfer between cells can rescue aerobic respiration. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 103(5):1283-8.

[3] Lin HY, Liou CW, Chen SD, Hsu TY, Chuang JH, Wang PW, Huang ST, Tiao MM, Chen JB, Lin TK, Chuang YC. 2015. Mitochondrial transfer from Wharton’s jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells to mitochondria-defective cells recaptures impaired mitochondrial function. Mitochondrion. 22:31-44.

[4] Vallabhaneni KC, Haller H, Dumler I. 2012. Vascular smooth muscle cells initiate proliferation of mesenchymal stem cells by mitochondrial transfer via tunnelling nanotubes. Stem Cells Dev. 21(17):3104-13.

[5] Acquistapace A, Bru T, Lesault PF, Figeac F, Coudert AE, Le Coz O, Christov C, Baudin X, Auber F, Yiou R, Dubois‐Randé JL. 2011. Human mesenchymal stem cells reprogram adult cardiomyocytes toward a progenitor‐like state through partial cell fusion and mitochondria transfer. Stem Cells. 29(5):812-24.

[6] Court AC, Le‐Gatt A, Luz‐Crawford P, Parra E, Aliaga‐Tobar V, Bátiz LF, Contreras RA, Ortúzar MI, Kurte M, Elizondo‐Vega R, Maracaja‐Coutinho V. 2020. Mitochondrial transfer from MSCs to T cells induces Treg differentiation and restricts inflammatory response. EMBO Rep. 5;21(2):e48052.

[7] Torralba D, Baixauli F, Sánchez-Madrid F. 2016. Mitochondria know no boundaries: mechanisms and functions of intercellular mitochondrial transfer. Front. Cell Dev. Biol. 28;4:107.

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Welcome to the first edition of the AI for Live Cell Insights newsletter, bringing you the latest live cell analyses powering drug discovery and cosmetics development. Each month, we will explore a new application of AI-based cellular analysis for label-free live cell...

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