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TFAM knockdown-triggered mtDNA-nucleoid aggregation and a decrease in mtDNA copy number induce the reorganization of nucleoid populations and mitochondria-associated ER-membrane contacts rights and content


Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is packaged with non-histone proteins into nucleoids.

TFAM covers and packs mtDNA; knockdown of TFAM results in nucleoid aggregation.

Mitochondrial dynamics and mtDNA segregation are tightly linked.

Replicating mitochondrial nucleoids are associated with ER-mitochondria tethers (MAM).

Loss of nucleoid integrity triggers MAM reorganization.


The correct organization of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in nucleoids and the contacts of mitochondria with the ER play an important role in maintaining the mitochondrial genome distribution within the cell. Mitochondria-associated ER membranes (MAMs) consist of interacting proteins and lipids located in the outer mitochondrial membrane and ER membrane, forming a platform for the mitochondrial inner membrane-associated genome replication factory as well as connecting the nucleoids with the mitochondrial division machinery. We show here that knockdown of a core component of mitochondrial nucleoids, TFAM, causes changes in the mitochondrial nucleoid populations, which subsequently impact ER-mitochondria membrane contacts. Knockdown of TFAM causes a significant decrease in the copy number of mtDNA as well as aggregation of mtDNA nucleoids. At the same time, it causes significant upregulation of the replicative TWNK helicase in the membrane-associated nucleoid fraction. This is accompanied by a transient elevation of MAM proteins, indicating a rearrangement of the linkage between ER and mitochondria triggered by changes in mitochondrial nucleoids. Reciprocal knockdown of the mitochondrial replicative helicase TWNK causes a decrease in mtDNA copy number and modifies mtDNA membrane association, however, it does not cause nucleoid aggregation and considerable alterations of MAM proteins in the membrane-associated fraction. Our explanation is that the aggregation of mitochondrial nucleoids resulting from TFAM knockdown triggers a compensatory mechanism involving the reorganization of both mitochondrial nucleoids and MAM. These results could provide an important insight into pathological conditions associated with impaired nucleoid organization or defects of mtDNA distribution.


Mitochondrial DNA


Mitochondrial transcription factor A (TFAM)

Organellar membranes

TWNK helicase

© 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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