The Slumbering Mitochondrion Awakes

Monitoring Mitochondrial Function and Activity During Early Embryo Development.

Over the past half a century there has been an increase in the average age of motherhood. Understanding the biology of what goes wrong in female reproduction during ageing is thus becoming increasingly important.  Mitochondria form a subcompartment of the cell and synthesise proteins that are the building blocks that form core components of the machinery involved in providing an energy source for all cells. Since successful embryo development requires vast amounts of energy, it is thought that a decline in mitochondrial activity and accumulated dysfunction could play a central role in this reproductive ageing. Correct mitochondrial function is therefore essential during these early stages of life, as it allows for critical and energy-demanding events such as egg maturation in the ovary, fertilisation, and embryo formation.

Despite growing evidence that mitochondria play a key role as primary drivers of successful development, it is currently unclear how and when mitochondrial protein synthesis is normally coordinated in eggs and early embryos. My project aims to explore these fundamental issues concerning mitochondria and their activity in these cells during development.

Currently we are establishing a technique that will allow us to detect and visualise mitochondrial proteins as they are being made, in mouse eggs and early embryos. Our results will enable us to understand when and where complex cellular processes take place. This will help to provide a more detailed molecular map of the key stages leading to successful embryo development.

Crucially, these cellular processes can also be explored in the context of reproductive ageing and potentially be extrapolated to the human condition. For example, the technique may allow us to understand whether, and if so then how, maternal age negatively influences mitochondrial function in eggs and early embryos. Ultimately, data generated through this work may improve the advice available on reproductive options for a range of conditions including maternal age and not just for those with mitochondrial DNA disease.