PLoS Biology (2018-09-01)

Morphology of mitochondria in spatially restricted axons revealed by cryo-electron tomography.

  • Tara D Fischer,
  • Pramod K Dash,
  • Jun Liu,
  • M Neal Waxham

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16, no. 9
p. e2006169


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Neurons project axons to local and distal sites and can display heterogeneous morphologies with limited physical dimensions that may influence the structure of large organelles such as mitochondria. Using cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), we characterized native environments within axons and presynaptic varicosities to examine whether spatial restrictions within these compartments influence the morphology of mitochondria. Segmented tomographic reconstructions revealed distinctive morphological characteristics of mitochondria residing at the narrowed boundary between presynaptic varicosities and axons with limited physical dimensions (approximately 80 nm), compared to mitochondria in nonspatially restricted environments. Furthermore, segmentation of the tomograms revealed discrete organizations between the inner and outer membranes, suggesting possible independent remodeling of each membrane in mitochondria at spatially restricted axonal/varicosity boundaries. Thus, cryo-ET of mitochondria within axonal subcompartments reveals that spatial restrictions do not obstruct mitochondria from residing within them, but limited available space can influence their gross morphology and the organization of the inner and outer membranes. These findings offer new perspectives on the influence of physical and spatial characteristics of cellular environments on mitochondrial morphology and highlight the potential for remarkable structural plasticity of mitochondria to adapt to spatial restrictions within axons.