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Stem cells overcome damage in other cells by exporting mitochondria

A research team has identified a protein that in-creases the transfer of mitochondria from mesenchymal stem cells to lung cells.

In work published in The EMBO Journal, the researchers reveal that the delivery of mitochondria to human lung cells can rejuvenate damaged cells. The migration of mitochondria from stem cells to epithelial cells also helps to repair tissue damage and inflammation linked to asthma-like symptoms in mice.

“Our results show that the movement of mitochondria from stem cells to recipient cells is regulated by the protein Miro1 and is part of a well-directed process,” remarked Anurag Agrawal, Professor at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, India, and one of the lead authors of the study.

“The introduction of mitochondria into damaged cells has beneficial effects on the health of cells and, in the long term, we be-lieve that mesenchymal stem cells could even be engineered to create more effective therapies for lung disease in humans.”

Earlier work revealed that mitochondria can be transferred between cells through tunnel-ing nanotubes, thread-like structures formed from the plasma membranes of cells that bridge between different types of cells. Stem cells can also use tunneling nanotubes to transfer mitochondria to neighboring cells and the number of these nanotubes increases under conditions of stress.

In the study, the protein Miro1 was shown to regulate the transfer of mitochondria from mesenchymal stem cells to epithelial cells. Stem cells that were engineered to have higher amounts of Miro1 were able to transfer mitochondria more efficiently and were therapeutically more effective when tested in mouse models of airway injury and asthma, compared to untreated cells.

“We hope to determine how this pathway might translate into better stem cell therapies for human disease,” added Agrawal.

Miro1 regulates intercellular mitochondrial transport and enhances mesenchymal stem cell rescue efficacy

Tanveer Ahmad, Shravani Mukherjee, Bijay Pattnaik, Manish Kumar, Suchita Singh, Manish Kumar, Rakhshinda Rehman, Brijendra K Tiwari, Kumar Abhiram Jha, Amruta P Barhanpurkar, Mohan R Wani, Soumya Sinha Roy, Ulaganathan Mabalirajan, Balaram Ghosh and Anurag Agrawal

Watch the video:

Transfer of mitochondria between stem cells via tunneling microtubes.

Read the paper:

doi: 10.1002/embj.201386030

Further information on The EMBO Journal is available at

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About EMBO
EMBO is an organization of more than 1600 leading researchers that promotes excel-lence in the life sciences. The major goals of the organization are to support talented re-searchers at all stages of their careers, stimulate the exchange of scientific information, and help build a European research environment where scientists can achieve their best work.

EMBO helps young scientists to advance their research, promote their international reputations and ensure their mobility. Courses, workshops, conferences and scientific journals disseminate the latest research and offer training in techniques to maintain high standards of excellence in research practice. EMBO helps to shape science and re-search policy by seeking input and feedback from our community and by following close-ly the trends in science in Europe.

Yvonne Kaul | EMBO Communications
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