Dynamics of mitochondria in living cells: shape changes, dislocations, fusion, and fission of mitochondria

Microsc Res Tech. 1994 Feb 15;27(3):198-219. doi: 10.1002/jemt.1070270303.


Mitochondria are semi-autonomous organelles which are endowed with the ability to change their shape (e.g., by elongation, shortening, branching, buckling, swelling) and their location inside a living cell. In addition they may fuse or divide. These dynamics are discussed. Dislocation of mitochondria may result from their interaction with elements of the cytoskeleton, with microtubules in particular, and from processes intrinsic to the mitochondria themselves. Morphological criteria and differences in the fate of some mitochondria argue for the presence of more than one mitochondrial population in some animal cells. Whether these reflect genetic differences remains obscure. Emphasis is laid on the methods for visualizing mitochondria in cells and following their behaviour. Fluorescence methods provide unique possibilities because of their high resolving power and because some of the mitochondria-specific fluorochromes can be used to reveal the membrane potential. Fusion and fission often occur in short time intervals within the same group of mitochondria. At sites of fusion of two mitochondria material of the inner membrane, the matrix compartment seems to accumulate. The original arrangement of the fusion partners is maintained for some minutes. Fission is a dynamic event which, like fusion, in most cases observed in vertebrate cell cultures is not a straight forward process but rather requires several "trials" until the division finally occurs. Regarding fusion and fission hitherto unpublished phase contrast micrographs, and electron micrographs have been included.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement
  • Cell Size
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / metabolism
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fusion / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Microtubules / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure*
  • Xenopus


  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Fluorescent Dyes