Open Access Open Badges Methodology article

A novel cell-free mitochondrial fusion assay amenable for high-throughput screenings of fusion modulators

Astrid C Schauss12, Huiyan Huang3, Seok-Yong Choi4, Liqun Xu1, Sébastien Soubeyrand1, Patricia Bilodeau1, Rodolfo Zunino1, Peter Rippstein1, Michael A Frohman3 and Heidi M McBride1*

Author Affiliations

1 University of Ottawa Heart Institute, 40 Ruskin St., Ottawa, ON, USA

2 Institute for Genetics and Cologne Excellence Cluster on Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-Associated Diseases (CECAD), Zülpicher Str 47, 50674 Köln, Germany

3 Department of Pharmacology and the Center for Developmental Genetics, University Medical Center at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5140, USA

4 Department of Biomedical Sciences, Chonnam National University Medical School, Gwangju, Korea

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Biology 2010, 8:100  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-8-100

Published: 26 July 2010



Mitochondria are highly dynamic organelles whose morphology and position within the cell is tightly coupled to metabolic function. There is a limited list of essential proteins that regulate mitochondrial morphology and the mechanisms that govern mitochondrial dynamics are poorly understood. However, recent evidence indicates that the core machinery that governs mitochondrial dynamics is linked within complex intracellular signalling cascades, including apoptotic pathways, cell cycle transitions and nuclear factor kappa B activation. Given the emerging importance of mitochondrial plasticity in cell signalling pathways and metabolism, it is essential that we develop tools to quantitatively analyse the processes of fission and fusion. In terms of mitochondrial fusion, the field currently relies upon on semi-quantitative assays which, even under optimal conditions, are labour-intensive, low-throughput and require complex imaging techniques.


In order to overcome these technical limitations, we have developed a new, highly quantitative cell-free assay for mitochondrial fusion in mammalian cells. This assay system has allowed us to establish the energetic requirements for mitochondrial fusion. In addition, our data reveal a dependence on active protein phosphorylation for mitochondrial fusion, confirming emerging evidence that mitochondrial fusion is tightly integrated within the global cellular response to signaling events. Indeed, we have shown that cytosol derived from cells stimulated with different triggers either enhance or inhibit the cell-free fusion reaction.


The adaptation of this system to high-throughput analysis will provide an unprecedented opportunity to identify and characterize novel regulatory factors. In addition, it provides a framework for a detailed mechanistic analysis of the process of mitochondrial fusion and the various axis of regulation that impinge upon this process in a wide range of cellular conditions.

See Commentary: webcite