Mesenchymal stem cells improve redox homeostasis and mitochondrial respiration in fibroblast cell lines with pathogenic MT-ND3 and MT-ND6 variants

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2022 Jun 17;13(1):256. doi: 10.1186/s13287-022-02932-x.


The most frequent biochemical defect of inherited mitochondrial disease is isolated complex I deficiency. There is no cure for this disorder, and treatment is mainly supportive. In this study, we investigated the effects of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) on skin fibroblast derived from three individuals with complex I deficiency carrying different pathogenic variants in mitochondrial DNA-encoded subunits (MT-ND3, MT-ND6). Complex I-deficient fibroblasts were transiently co-cultured with bone marrow-derived MSCs. Mitochondrial transfer was analysed by fluorescence labelling and validated by Sanger sequencing. Levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) were measured using MitoSOX Red. Moreover, mitochondrial respiration was analysed by Seahorse XFe96 Extracellular Flux Analyzer. Levels of antioxidant proteins were investigated via immunoblotting. Co-culturing of complex I-deficient fibroblast with MSCs lowered cellular ROS levels. The effect on ROS production was more sustained compared to treatment of patient fibroblasts with culture medium derived from MSC cultures. Investigation of cellular antioxidant defence systems revealed an upregulation of SOD2 (superoxide dismutase 2, mitochondrial) and HO-1 (heme oxygenase 1) in patient-derived cell lines. This adaptive response was normalised upon MSC treatment. Moreover, Seahorse experiments revealed a significant improvement of mitochondrial respiration, indicating a mitigation of the oxidative phosphorylation defect. Experiments with repetitive MSC co-culture at two consecutive time points enhanced this effect. Our study indicates that MSC-based treatment approaches might constitute an interesting option for patients with mitochondrial DNA-encoded mitochondrial diseases. We suggest that this strategy may prove more promising for defects caused by mitochondrial DNA variants compared to nuclear-encoded defects.

Keywords: Complex I; Gene therapy; Mesenchymal stem cells; Mitochondrial DNA; Mitochondrial transfer; ND3; ND6.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants* / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex I / deficiency
  • Electron Transport Complex I / genetics
  • Electron Transport Complex I / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells* / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Diseases
  • NADH Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Respiration


  • Antioxidants
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • MT-ND6 protein, human
  • NADH Dehydrogenase
  • Electron Transport Complex I
  • MT-ND3 protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Mitochondrial complex I deficiency