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Keywords:

  • contact sites;
  • crista junctions;
  • cristae structure;
  • electron microscope tomography;
  • mitochondrial structure

Abstract

Electron tomography was used to help redefine the membrane architecture of mitochondria in neurons of the brain. Investigations were conducted on unexplored questions of structural homogeneity between mitochondria in the four intensely studied regions of the brain and in the functionally distinct neuronal sub-compartments. These mitochondria have the majority of cristae composed of both tubular and lamellar segments with the tubes arranged more peripherally and the lamellae more centrally located. Cristae that are entirely tubular were not commonly seen and those that are entirely lamellar were rare. It was determined that cristae connect through narrow, sometimes very long tubular regions to the peripheral surface of the inner membrane. A structurally distinct type of contact site was revealed in brain mitochondria, which we named the bridge contact site. These bridges may play a role in the structural integrity of the outer and inner membrane systems. It was found that the membrane architecture in the various brain regions and neuronal compartments was strikingly uniform, including consistently tubular crista junctions. The functional consequences of this junctional architecture are discussed in relation to the segregation of proteins between the inner boundary membrane and the cristae membranes, and in relation to the model of microcompartmentation of macromolecules inside cristae. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.