Characterization of functionally distinct mitochondrial subpopulations

Janet E. Saunders, Craig C. Beeson, Rick G. Schnellmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Mitochondrial stress results in changes in mitochondrial function, morphology and homeostasis (biogenesis, fission/fusion, mitophagy) and may lead to changes in mitochondrial subpopulations. While flow cytometric techniques have been developed to quantify features of individual mitochondria related to volume, Ca2+ concentration, mtDNA content, respiratory capacity and oxidative damage, less information is available concerning the identification and characterization of mitochondrial subpopulations, particularly in epithelial cells. Mitochondria from rabbit kidneys were stained with molecular probes for cardiolipin content (nonyl acridine orange, NAO) and membrane potential (tetramethylrhodamine, TMRM) and analyzed using flow cytometry. We validated that side scatter was a better indicator of volume and that as side scatter (SSC) decreased mitochondrial volume increased. Furthermore, those mitochondria with the highest NAO content had greater side scattering and were most highly charged. Mitochondria with average NAO content were of average side scattering and maintained an intermediate charge. Those mitochondria with low NAO content had minimal side scattering and exhibited minimal charge. Upon titration with the uncoupler carbonylcyanide-4-(trifluoromethoxy)-phenylhydrazone (FCCP), it was found that the high NAO content subpopulations were more resistant to uncoupling than lower NAO content populations. Ca2+-induced swelling of mitochondria was evaluated using probability binning (PB) analyses of SSC. Interestingly, only 30 % of the mitochondria showed changes in response to Ca2+, which was blocked by cyclosporine A. In addition, the small, high NAO content mitochondria swelled differentially in response to Ca 2+ over time. Our results demonstrate that flow cytometry can be used to identify mitochondrial subpopulations based on high, mid and low NAO content and/or volume/complexity. These subpopulations showed differences in membrane potential, volume, and responses to uncoupling and Ca2+-induced swelling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-99
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Bioenergetics and Biomembranes
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Flow cytometry
  • Heterogeneity
  • Kidney
  • Mitochondria
  • Subpopulations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterization of functionally distinct mitochondrial subpopulations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this