Active digestion of sperm mitochondrial DNA in single living sperm revealed by optical tweezers

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 31;103(5):1382-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0506911103. Epub 2006 Jan 23.


In almost all eukaryotes, mitochondrial (mt) genes are transmitted to progeny mainly from the maternal parent. The most popular explanation for this phenomenon is simple dilution of paternal mtDNA, because the paternal gametes (sperm) are much smaller than maternal gametes (egg) and contribute a limited amount of mitochondria to the progeny. Recently, this simple explanation has been challenged in several reports that describe the active digestion of sperm mtDNA, down-regulation of mtDNA replication in sperm, and proteolysis of mitochondria triggered by ubiquitination. In this investigation, we visualized mt nucleoids in living sperm by using highly sensitive SYBR green I vital staining. The ability to visualize mt nucleoids allowed us to clarify that the elimination of sperm mtDNA upon fertilization is achieved through two steps: (i) gradual decrease of mt nucleoid numbers during spermatogenesis and (ii) rapid digestion of sperm mtDNA just after fertilization. One notable point is that the digestion of mtDNA is achieved before the complete destruction of mitochondrial structures, which may be necessary to avoid the diffusion and transmission of potentially deleterious sperm mtDNA to the progeny.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzothiazoles
  • Cell Line
  • DNA / chemistry
  • DNA Primers / chemistry
  • DNA, Mitochondrial* / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial* / metabolism
  • Diamines
  • Eggs / microbiology
  • Fertilization
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • NADH Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Organic Chemicals / pharmacology
  • Oryzias
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Quinolines
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Spermatogenesis
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism*
  • Spermatozoa / ultrastructure*


  • Benzothiazoles
  • DNA Primers
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Diamines
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Quinolines
  • SYBR Green I
  • DNA
  • NADH Dehydrogenase