Retained features of embryonic metabolism in the adult MRL mouse

Mol Genet Metab. 2009 Mar;96(3):133-44. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2008.11.164. Epub 2009 Jan 7.


The MRL mouse is an inbred laboratory strain that was derived by selective breeding in 1960 from the rapidly growing LG/J (Large) strain. MRL mice grow to nearly twice the size of other commonly used mouse strains, display uncommonly robust healing and regeneration properties, and express later onset autoimmune traits similar to Systemic Lupus Erythematosis. The regeneration trait (heal) in the MRL mouse maps to 14-20 quantitative trait loci and the autoimmune traits map to 5-8 loci. In this paper we report the metabolic and biochemical features that characterize the adult MRL mouse and distinguish it from C57BL/6 control animals. We found that adult MRL mice have retained a number of features of embryonic metabolism that are normally lost during development in other strains. These include an emphasis on aerobic glycolytic energy metabolism, increased glutamate oxidation, and a reduced capacity for fatty acid oxidation. MRL tissues, including the heart, liver, and regenerating ear hole margins, showed considerable mitochondrial genetic and physiologic reserve, decreased mitochondrial transmembrane potential (DeltaPsi(m)), decreased reactive oxygen species (ROS), and decreased oxidative phosphorylation, yet increased mitochondrial DNA and protein content. The discovery of embryonic metabolic features led us to look for cells that express markers of embryonic stem cells. We found that the adult MRL mouse has retained populations of cells that express the stem cell markers Nanog, Islet-1, and Sox2. These are present in the heart at baseline and highly induced after myocardial injury. The retention of embryonic features of metabolism in adulthood is rare in mammals. The MRL mouse provides a unique experimental window into the relationship between metabolism, stem cell biology, and regeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Male
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Inbred MRL lpr / embryology*
  • Mice, Inbred MRL lpr / genetics
  • Mice, Inbred MRL lpr / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / genetics
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Fatty Acids
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Glutathione