Physiological functions of mitochondrial fusion

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Jul;1201:21-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05615.x.


In recent years, the dynamic nature of mitochondria has been discovered to be critical for their function. Here we discuss the molecular basis of mitochondrial fusion, its protective role in neurodegeneration, and its importance in cellular function. The mitofusins Mfn1 and Mfn2, GTPases localized to the outer membrane, mediate outer-membrane fusion. OPA1, a GTPase associated with the inner membrane, mediates subsequent inner-membrane fusion. Mutations in Mfn2 or OPA1 cause neurodegenerative diseases. Mouse models with defects in mitochondrial fusion genes have provided important avenues for understanding how fusion maintains mitochondrial physiology and neuronal function. Mitochondrial fusion enables content mixing within a mitochondrial population, thereby preventing permanent loss of essential components. Cells with reduced mitochondrial fusion, as a consequence, show a subpopulation of mitochondria that lack mtDNA nucleoids. Such mtDNA defects lead to respiration-deficient mitochondria, and their accumulation in neurons leads to impaired outgrowth of cellular processes and ultimately neurodegeneration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Models, Animal
  • Mutation
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • Mfn1 protein, mouse
  • Opa1 protein, mouse