Nerve cells need lots of energy to work properly, and the energy needs to be delivered to the right place at the right time. By inducing a mutation in fruit flies, researchers have figured out that a particular gene governs the movement of cells energy-producing units, called mitochondria.
This image shows a neuromuscular junction, where a nerve cell connects to a muscle cell and delivers a signal to the muscle. The blue-and-black striped background is the muscle cell and the green dots are the neurons power plants, or mitochondria. The mitochondria move within the nerve cell along the pathways called microtubules, shown here in red. Photo credit: (c) 2005 Greg Macleod & Konrad Zinsmaier.
Rather than moving to the ends of the cells, or synapses, where cell-to-cell communication takes place, mitochondria in mutant fruit flies just piled up in the center of the cell. Even so, the mutant cells could still transmit signals, although not as well.
The findings are surprising because scientists had thought any disruption in normal mitochondrial behavior would be lethal in the embryo stage. Instead, the mutant fruit fly larvae survive for five days, although they dont live to adulthood.
Mari N. Jensen | EurekAlert!
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