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Eur J Cell Biol. 1995 May;67(1):73-83.

Ultrastructural, immunocytochemical and stereological investigation of hepatocytes in a patient with the mutation of the ornithine transcarbamylase gene.

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Klinik und Poliklinik für Kinderheilkunde, Universität Münster, Germany.


We studied a male newborn suffering from deficiency of ornithine transcarbamylase (OTC) that is due to a G-to-A substitution in codon 269 of the OTC gene. This study intends to define the cell biological mechanisms in this naturally occurring OTC mutation which may explain the mild clinical course in spite of the very low residual enzyme activity. Using immunogold labeling of thawed thin frozen sections of liver from this patient and a control liver, we analyzed the quantitative distribution of several mitochondrial proteins in the cytosol and the mitochondria of hepatocytes. In addition, the absolute volumes and surface densities of mitochondria and peroxisomes were determined. Our results show that the absolute volume of mitochondria in the patient's hepatocytes was increased to 141% (P < 0.001) without any change in the surface density indicating an increased number of mitochondria. In the patient's hepatocytes the peroxisomes were increased in size but not in number. The concentration of OTC was elevated in the cytosol (P < 0.001) and to a lesser extent in mitochondria (P < 0.01) of the patient's hepatocytes thus indicating a doubling of OTC relative to control liver cells. The quantity of OTC in mitochondria was 63% higher in diseased liver cells. By conventional thin section electron microscopy, mitochondria-like structures with poorly defined cristae and an electron-dense matrix were observed in the cytoplasm of the diseased hepatocytes. By immunoelectron microscopy, they contained the cytochrome c oxidase II subunit as well as DNA but lacked OTC, carbamylphosphate synthetase, F1-ATPase beta subunit and catalase. Thus it appears that these structures represent defective and probably degenerating mitochondria. Our data indicate that the reduced enzyme activity of the mutant OTC is partly compensated by an increased amount of enzyme molecules in the cytosol as well as mitochondria combined with an increase in the biogenesis of mitochondria.

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