Mitochondria are cytoplasmic organelles, critical to basic cellular function due to their principal role in energy production and mitochondrial dysfunction is implicated in the etiology of many human diseases. They contain their own genome (mtDNA) that is transmitted maternally. Current dogma holds that mammalian cells transmit their nuclear and mitochondrial genomes exclusively vertically to daughter cells, during cell divisions. However, and rather unexpectedly, our preliminary studies have demonstrated horizontal exchange of mitochondria and mtDNA between cells that are not in a parent-offspring relationship. The objective of this proposal is to test our main hypothesis that horizontal mtDNA transfer is common during normal development and is critical to maintain or rescue the metabolic potential of cells. Our team seeks to uncover genetic, epigenetic and cellular mechanisms governing horizontal mtDNA acquisition and find answers on how, when and why cells within a body donate and accept mtDNA. The ultimate goal is to understand mtDNA stability in high energy-demanding organs and tissues, particularly during aging. Our research will likely have a significant impact on our understanding of mtDNA biology and guide the development of future therapeutic approaches to maintain mitochondrial genome integrity by experimental mitochondrial transfer and replacement.
This project will address fundamental questions concerning biology of the mitochondrial genome during aging. When completed, we will provide clear evidence as to whether or not different cells within a body donate and accept mitochondria from each other.