• hippocampal pyramidal neuron;
  • live-cell imaging;
  • mouse;
  • organelle;
  • presynaptic terminal


Proper distribution of axonal mitochondria is critical for multiple neuronal functions. To understand the underlying mechanisms for population behavior, quantitative characterisation of elemental dynamics on multiple time scales is required. Here we investigated the stability and transport of axonal mitochondria using live-cell imaging of cultured mouse hippocampal neurons. We first characterised the long-term stability of stationary mitochondria. At a given moment, about 10% of the mitochondria were in a state of transport and the remaining 90% were stationary. Among these stationary mitochondria, 40% of them remained in the same position over several days. The rest of the mitochondria transited to mobile state stochastically and this process could be detected and quantitatively analysed by time-lapse imaging with intervals of 30 min. The stability of axonal mitochondria increased from 2 to 3 weeks in culture, was decreased by tetrodotoxin treatment, and was higher near synapses. Stationary mitochondria should be generated by pause of moving mitochondria and subsequent stabilisation. Therefore, we next analysed pause events of moving mitochondria by repetitive imaging at 0.3 Hz. We found that the probability of transient pause increased with field stimulation, decreased with tetrodotoxin treatment, and was higher near synapses. Finally, by combining parameters obtained from time-lapse imaging with different time scales, we could estimate transition rates between different mitochondrial states. The analyses suggested specific developmental regulation in the probability of paused mitochondria to transit into stationary state. These findings indicate that multiple mitochondrial behaviors, especially those regulated by neuronal activity and synapse location, determine their distribution in the axon.