Journal Article

Natural competence of mammalian mitochondria allows the molecular investigation of mitochondrial gene expression

Milana Koulintchenko, Richard J. Temperley, Penelope A. Mason, André Dietrich and Robert N. Lightowlers

in Human Molecular Genetics

Volume 15, issue 1, pages 143-154
Published in print January 2006 | ISSN: 0964-6906
Published online December 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2083 | DOI:

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Respiration, a fundamental process in mammalian cells, requires two genomes, those of the nucleus and the mitochondrion (mtDNA). Mutations of mtDNA are being increasingly recognized in disease and may play an important role in the ageing process. Accepting the vital role of mtDNA gene products, our limited knowledge concerning the details of mitochondrial gene expression is surprising. This is, in part, due to our inability to transfect mitochondria and to manipulate their genome. There have been claims of successful DNA import into isolated organelles, but most reports lacked evidence of expression and no method has furthered our understanding of gene expression. Here, we report that mammalian mitochondria possess a natural competence for DNA import. Using five functional assays, we show imported DNA can act as templates for DNA synthesis or promoter-driven transcription, with the resultant polycistronic RNA being processed (5′ and 3′) and excised mt-tRNA matured. Exploiting this natural competence will allow us to explore mitochondrial gene expression in organello and provides the potential for mitochondrial transfection in vivo.

Journal Article.  8739 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Genetics and Genomics

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