The Relationship Between Pluripotency and Mitochondrial DNA Proliferation During Early Embryo Development and Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation

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Pluripotent blastomeres of mammalian pre-implantation embryos and embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are characterized by limited oxidative capacity and great reliance on anaerobic respiration. Early pre-implantation embryos and undifferentiated ESCs possess small and immature mitochondria located around the nucleus, have low oxygen consumption and express high levels of glycolytic enzymes. However, as embryonic cells and ESCs lose pluripotency and commit to a specific cell fate, the expression of mtDNA transcription and replication factors is upregulated and the number of mitochondria and mtDNA copies/cell increases. Moreover, upon cellular differentiation, mitochondria acquire an elongated morphology with swollen cristae and dense matrices, migrate into wider cytoplasmic areas and increase the levels of oxygen consumption and ATP production as a result of the activation of the more efficient, aerobic metabolism. Since pluripotency seems to be associated with anaerobic metabolism and a poorly developed mitochondrial network and differentiation leads to activation of mitochondrial biogenesis according to the metabolic requirements of the specific cell type, it is hypothesized that reprogramming of somatic cells towards a pluripotent state, by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), transcription-induced pluripotency or creation of pluripotent cell hybrids, requires acquisition of mitochondrial properties characteristic of pluripotent blastomeres and ESCs.

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