Mitochondria have long been recognized as cellular energy power houses that also regulate cellular redox signaling to arbitrate cell survival. Recent studies of mitochondria in stem cells (SCs) demonstrate that they have critical roles beyond this traditional view. Embryonic (E) SCs, termed pluripotent for their ability to differentiate into all cell types within an organism, maintain a limited number of morphologically undifferentiated (electron translucent and poorly formed cristae) mitochondria. As these cells differentiate, their mitochondria undergo a tightly choreographed gain of number, mass and morphological complexity. Therefore, mechanisms that regulate mitochondrial growth, localization, division and partition must play active roles in the maintenance of pluripotency and execution of differentiation. Aberrant mitochondrial dynamics are associated with a plethora of human disorders, for which SCs hold curative potential. Hence, a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms that regulate mitochondrial dynamics and function in SCs and their overall relationship to the maintenance of pluripotency is pivotal for the progression of therapeutic regenerative medicine.
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