Increased in vivo apoptosis in cells lacking mitochondrial DNA gene expression

Jianming Wang, José P. Silva, Claes M. Gustafsson, Pierre Rustin, Nils Göran Larsson

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221 Scopus citations


We have attempted to determine whether loss of mtDNA and respiratory chain function result in apoptosis in vivo. Apoptosis was studied in embryos with homozygous disruption of the mitochondrial transcription factor A gene (Tfam) and tissue-specific Tfam knockout animals with severe respiratory chain deficiency in the heart. We found massive apoptosis in Tfam knockout embryos at embryonic day (E) 9.5 and increased apoptosis in the heart of the tissue-specific Tfam knockouts. Furthermore, mtDNA-less (p0) cell lines were susceptible to apoptosis induced by different stimuli in vitro. The data presented here provide in vivo evidence that respiratory chain deficiency predisposes cells to apoptosis, contrary to previous assumptions based on in vitro studies of cultured cells. These results suggest that increased apoptosis is a pathogenic event in human mtDNA mutation disorders. The finding that respiratory chain deficiency is associated with increased in vivo apoptosis may have important therapeutic implications for human disease. Respiratory chain deficiency and cell loss and/or apoptosis have been associated with neurodegeneration, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, and aging. Furthermore, chemotherapy and radiation treatment of cancer are intended to induce apoptosis in tumor cells. It would therefore be of interest to determine whether manipulation of respiratory chain function can be used to inhibit or enhance apoptosis in these conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4038-4043
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Mar 27 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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