Mitochondria are highly mobile and dynamic organelles that continually fuse and divide. These processes allow mitochondria to exchange contents, including mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here we examine the functions of mitochondrial fusion in differentiated skeletal muscle through conditional deletion of the mitofusins Mfn1 and Mfn2, mitochondrial GTPases essential for fusion. Loss of the mitofusins causes severe mitochondrial dysfunction, compensatory mitochondrial proliferation, and muscle atrophy. Mutant mice have severe mtDNA depletion in muscle that precedes physiological abnormalities. Moreover, the mitochondrial genomes of the mutant muscle rapidly accumulate point mutations and deletions. In a related experiment, we find that disruption of mitochondrial fusion strongly increases mitochondrial dysfunction and lethality in a mouse model with high levels of mtDNA mutations. With its dual function in safeguarding mtDNA integrity and preserving mtDNA function in the face of mutations, mitochondrial fusion is likely to be a protective factor in human disorders associated with mtDNA mutations.
Copyright 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.