Plasticity in mitochondrial cristae density allows metabolic capacity modulation in human skeletal muscle

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Mitochondrial energy production involves the movement of protons down a large electrochemical gradient via ATP synthase located on the folded inner membrane, known as cristae. In mammalian skeletal muscle, the density of cristae in mitochondria is assumed to be constant. However, recent experimental studies have shown that respiration per mitochondria varies. Modelling studies have hypothesized that this variation in respiration per mitochondria depends on plasticity in cristae density, although current evidence for such a mechanism is lacking. In the present study, we confirm this hypothesis by showing that, in human skeletal muscle, and in contrast to the current view, the mitochondrial cristae density is not constant but, instead, exhibits plasticity with long-term endurance training. Furthermore, we show that frequently recruited mitochondria-enriched fibres have significantly increased cristae density and that, at the whole-body level, muscle mitochondrial cristae density is a better predictor of maximal oxygen uptake rate than muscle mitochondrial volume. Our findings establish an elevating mitochondrial cristae density as a regulatory mechanism for increasing metabolic power in human skeletal muscle. We propose that this mechanism allows evasion of the trade-off between cell occupancy by mitochondria and other cellular constituents, as well as improved metabolic capacity and fuel catabolism during prolonged elevated energy requirements.

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