Mitochondria are extremely important for cells, as they produce the energy they need to carry out their tasks in a normal, healthy body. So when mitochondria can’t or won’t function as they are supposed to, serious conditions or diseases can develop.

This 2018 study from Canada shows that human mesenchymal stem cells can interact with diseased mitochondria and correct or influence their activity in the cells. To demonstrate this, the authors cultured human MSC with human mitochondria extracted from patients with mitochondrial malfunctions. The authors also injected MSC into mice with known mitochondrial defects and studied their mitochondrial response.

This is a really exciting breakthrough for mitochondrial diseases, as patients suffering from these conditions could potentially be treated with MSC in future studies.

Front Physiol. 2018 Nov 13;9:1572. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.01572.

Mesenchymal Stem Cells Shift Mitochondrial Dynamics and Enhance Oxidative Phosphorylation in Recipient Cells.

Newell C, Sabouny R, Hittel DS, Shutt TE, Khan A, Klein MS, Shearer J.


Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) are the most commonly used cells in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. MSCs can promote host tissue repair through several different mechanisms including donor cell engraftment, release of cell signaling factors, and the transfer of healthy organelles to the host. In the present study, we examine the specific impacts of MSCs on mitochondrial morphology and function in host tissues. Employing in vitro cell culture of inherited mitochondrial disease and an in vivo animal experimental model of low-grade inflammation (high fat feeding), we show human-derived MSCs to alter mitochondrial function. MSC co-culture with skin fibroblasts from mitochondrial disease patients rescued aberrant mitochondrial morphology from a fission state to a more fused appearance indicating an effect of MSC co-culture on host cell mitochondrial network formation. In vivo experiments confirmed mitochondrial abundance and mitochondrial oxygen consumption rates were elevated in host tissues following MSC treatment. Furthermore, microarray profiling identified 226 genes with differential expression in the liver of animals treated with MSC, with cellular signaling, and actin cytoskeleton regulation as key upregulated processes. Collectively, our data indicate that MSC therapy rescues impaired mitochondrial morphology, enhances host metabolic capacity, and induces widespread host gene shifting. These results highlight the potential of MSCs to modulate mitochondria in both inherited and pathological disease states.

PMID: 30555336 PMCID: PMC6282049