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Reprod Fertil Dev. 2006;18(8):829-38.

The mitochondrial contribution to stem cell biology.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans, 200 Computer Center, New Orleans, LA 70148-2960, USA.


The distribution and functions of mitochondria in stem cells have not been examined, yet the contributions of these organelles to stem cell viability and differentiation must be vitally important in view of their critical roles in all other cell types. A key role for mitochondria in stem cells is indicated by reports that they translocate in the oocyte during fertilisation to cluster around the pronuclei and can remain in a perinuclear pattern during embryo development. This clustering appears to be essential for normal embryonic development. Because embryonic stem cells are derived from fertilised oocytes, and eventually can differentiate into 'adult' stem cells, it was hypothesised that mitochondrial perinuclear clustering persists through preimplantation embryo development into the stem cells, and that this localisation is indicative of stem cell pluripotency. Further, it was predicted that mitochondrial activity, as measured by respiration and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) content, would correlate with the degree of perinuclear clustering. It was also predicted that these morphological and metabolic measurements could serve as indicators of 'stemness.' This article reviews the distribution and metabolism of mitochondria in a model stem cell line and how this information is related to passage number, differentiation and/or senescence. In addition, it describes mitochondrial DNA deletions in oocytes and embryos that could adversely affect stem cell performance.

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