To understand how mitochondria are involved in malignant transformation we have generated a collection of transmitochondrial cybrid cell lines on the same nuclear background (143B) but with mutant mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variants with different degrees of pathogenicity. These include the severe mutation in the tRNALys gene, m.8363G>A, and the three milder yet prevalent Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) mutations in the MT-ND1 (m.3460G>A), MT-ND4 (m.11778G>A) and MT-ND6 (m.14484T>C) mitochondrial genes. We found that 143B ρ0 cells devoid of mtDNA and cybrids harboring wild type mtDNA or that causing severe mitochondrial dysfunction do not produce tumors when injected in nude mice. By contrast cybrids containing mild mutant mtDNAs exhibit different tumorigenic capacities, depending on OXPHOS dysfunction.The differences in tumorigenicity correlate with an enhanced resistance to apoptosis and high levels of NOX expression. However, the final capacity of the different cybrid cell lines to generate tumors is most likely a consequence of a complex array of pro-oncogenic and anti-oncogenic factors associated with mitochondrial dysfunction.Our results demonstrate the essential role of mtDNA in tumorigenesis and explain the numerous and varied mtDNA mutations found in human tumors, most of which give rise to mild mitochondrial dysfunction.
Keywords: LHON; cancer; mitochondria; mtDNA mutations; retrograde signaling.