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Steiner, Philip; Luckner, Manja; Kerschbaum, Hubert; Wanner, Gerhard and Lütz-Meindl, Ursula (2018): Ionic stress induces fusion of mitochondria to 3-D networks: An electron tomography study. In: Journal of Structural Biology, Vol. 204, No. 1: pp. 52-63

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Mitochondria are central organelles for energy supply of cells and play an important role in maintenance of ionic balance. Consequently mitochondria are highly sensitive to any kind of stress to which they mainly response by disturbance of respiration, ROS production and release of cytochrome c into the cytoplasm. Many of the physiological and molecular stress reactions of mitochondria are well known, yet there is a lack of information on corresponding stress induced structural changes. 3-D visualization of high-pressure frozen cells by FIB-SEM tomography and TEM tomography as used for the present investigation provide an excellent tool for studying structure related mitochondrial stress reactions. In the present study it is shown that mitochondria in the unicellular fresh-water algal model system Micrasterias as well as in the closely related aquatic higher plant Lemma fuse to local networks as a consequence of exposure to ionic stress induced by addition of KCl, NaCl and CoCl2. In dependence on concentration and duration of the treatment, fusion of mitochondria occurs either by formation of protuberances arising from the outer mitochondrial membrane, or by direct contact of the surface of elongated mitochondria. As our results show that respiration is maintained in both model systems during ionic stress and mitochondrial fusion, as well as formation of protuberances are reversible, we assume that mitochondrial fusion is a ubiquitous process that may help the cells to cope with stress. This may occur by interconnecting the respiratory chains of the individual mitochondria and by enhancing the buffer capacity against stress induced ionic imbalance.

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