Cell Biology

Don't Eat Me

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Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 514-515
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6029.514-c

Mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, come in a stunning variety of shapes and sizes. One reason for this is that depending on the physiological state of the cells, mitochondria can fuse with one another and then separate from one another in an ongoing process of fusion and fission. When cells are deprived of nutrients, they will often induce autophagy—a process that allows for the degradation of bulk cytosol and whole organelles, including mitochondria, to provide raw materials to maintain essential cellular activities. Gomes et al. wanted to understand how and whether the dynamic state of mitochondria is affected by, and in turn affects, autophagy. When autophagy was induced, mitochondria were observed to elongate, because mitochondrial fission was inhibited by the phosphorylation of a pro-fission protein, dynamin-related protein 1. These elongated mitochondria were able to resist autophagy and could maintain cell energetics despite nutrient deprivation. Conversely, blocking mitochondrial fusion precipitated starvation-induced cell death.

Nat. Cell Biol. 13, 10.1038/ncb2220 (2011).

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