Mitochondria are accurately transmitted to the next generation through a female germ cell in most animals. Mitochondria produce most ATP, accompanied by the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). A specialized mechanism should be necessary for inherited mitochondria to escape from impairments of mtDNA by ROS. Inherited mitochondria are named germ-line mitochondria, in contrast with somatic ones. We hypothesized that germ-line mitochondria are distinct from somatic ones. The protein profiles of germ-line and somatic mitochondria were compared, using oocytes at two different stages in Xenopus laevis. Some subunits of ATP synthase were at a low level in germ-line mitochondria, which was confirmed immunologically. Ultrastructural histochemistry using 3,3'-diaminobenzidine (DAB) showed that cytochrome c oxidase (COX) activity of germ-line mitochondria was also at a low level. Mitochondria in one oocyte were segregated into germ-line mitochondria and somatic mitochondria, during growth from stage I to VI oocytes. Respiratory activity represented by ATP synthase expression and COX activity was shown to be low during most of the long gametogenetic period. We propose that germ-line mitochondria that exhibit suppressed respiration alleviate production of ROS and enable transmission of accurate mtDNA from generation to generation.
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