Light Microscopy of Mitochondria at the Nanoscale

Annu Rev Biophys. 2020 May 6:49:289-308. doi: 10.1146/annurev-biophys-121219-081550. Epub 2020 Feb 24.


Mitochondria are essential for eukaryotic life. These double-membrane organelles often form highly dynamic tubular networks interacting with many cellular structures. Their highly convoluted contiguous inner membrane compartmentalizes the organelle, which is crucial for mitochondrial function. Since the diameter of the mitochondrial tubules is generally close to the diffraction limit of light microscopy, it is often challenging, if not impossible, to visualize submitochondrial structures or protein distributions using conventional light microscopy. This renders super-resolution microscopy particularly valuable, and attractive, for studying mitochondria. Super-resolution microscopy encompasses a diverse set of approaches that extend resolution, as well as nanoscopy techniques that can even overcome the diffraction limit. In this review, we provide an overview of recent studies using super-resolution microscopy to investigate mitochondria, discuss the strengths and opportunities of the various methods in addressing specific questions in mitochondrial biology, and highlight potential future developments.

Keywords: live-cell microscopy; mitochondria; nanoscopy; super-resolution microscopy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Nanotechnology