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J Neurosci. 2010 Jan 20;30(3):1015-26. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1517-09.2010.

The micro-architecture of mitochondria at active zones: electron tomography reveals novel anchoring scaffolds and cristae structured for high-rate metabolism.

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  • 1National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, University of California, San Diego, California 92092-0608, USA.


Mitochondria are integral elements of many nerve terminals. They must be appropriately positioned to regulate microdomains of Ca(2+) concentration and metabolic demand, but structures that anchor them in place have not been described. By applying the high resolution of electron tomography (ET) to the study of a central terminal, the calyx of Held, we revealed an elaborate cytoskeletal superstructure that connected a subset of mitochondria to the presynaptic membrane near active zones. This cytoskeletal network extended laterally and was well integrated into the nerve terminal cytoskeleton, which included filamentous linkages among synaptic vesicles. ET revealed novel features of inner membrane for these mitochondria. Crista structure was polarized in that crista junctions, circular openings of the inner membrane under the outer membrane, were aligned with the cytoskeletal superstructure and occurred at higher density in mitochondrial membrane facing the presynaptic membrane. These characteristics represent the first instance where a subcomponent of an organelle is shown to have a specific orientation relative to the polarized structure of a cell. The ratio of cristae to outer membrane surface area is large in these mitochondria relative to other tissues, indicating a high metabolic capacity. These observations suggest general principles for cytoskeletal anchoring of mitochondria in all tissues, reveal potential routes for nonsynaptic communication between presynaptic and postsynaptic partners using this novel cytoskeletal framework, and indicate that crista structure can be specialized for particular functions within cellular microdomains.

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