Mitochondria: Selective protein degradation ensures cellular longevity

by Aaron Gochman (’18)

article 2 AG
Fig. 1: For the first time, Swedish researchers have described the mechanism by which mitochondria encapsulate and dispose of harmful proteins within the cell.

Mitochondria are known as the “powerhouse of the cell.” They provide energy and regulate important biological processes to ensure healthy metabolism and proper cellular function. Hence when mitochondrial dysfunction occurs, the cell is at great risk.

A pair of researchers from University of Gothenburg in Sweden have characterized a pathway in which harmful mitochondrial proteins can be degraded without affecting normal byproducts of cellular metabolism. By selectively eliminating the harmful proteins, the researchers can take a new theoretical approach to treating mitochondria-related diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

More specifically, the mitochondrion envelopes a harmful protein using a chunk of its own membrane, which is trafficked to the lysosome for eventual extracellular disposal. Essentially, the mitochondria can remove proteins embedded in one region of its membrane, while leaving the rest of the proteins intact. This finding represents an avenue for protein-specific modulation of mitochondria in the clinic.



  1. M. Hill, T. Nyström, Mitochondria: Selective protein degradation ensures cellular longevity. eLife 5, (2016), doi:
  2. A. Trafton, A New Glow for Electron Microscopy. MIT News, (2012).

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