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Mitochondrial fusion is a fundamental process driven by dynamin related GTPase proteins (DRPs), in contrast to the general SNARE-dependence of most cellular fusion events. The DRPs Mfn1/Mfn2/Fzo1 and OPA1/Mgm1 are the key effectors for fusion of the mitochondrial outer and inner membranes, respectively. In order to promote fusion, these two DRPs require post-translational modifications and proteolysis. OPA1/Mgm1 undergoes partial proteolytic processing, which results in a combination between short and long isoforms. In turn, ubiquitylation of mitofusins, after oligomerization and GTP hydrolysis, promotes and positively regulates mitochondrial fusion. In contrast, under conditions of mitochondrial dysfunction, negative regulation by proteolysis on these DRPs results in mitochondrial fragmentation. This occurs by complete processing of OPA1 and via ubiquitylation and degradation of mitofusins. Mitochondrial fragmentation contributes to the elimination of damaged mitochondria by mitophagy, and may play a protective role against Parkinson's disease. Moreover, a link of Mfn2 to Alzheimer's disease is emerging and mutations in Mfn2 or OPA1 cause Charcot-Marie-Tooth type 2A neuropathy or autosomal-dominant optic atrophy. Here, we summarize our current understanding on the molecular mechanisms promoting or inhibiting fusion of mitochondrial membranes, which is essential for cellular survival and disease control. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Mitochondrial dynamics and physiology. Copyright © 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Mafalda Escobar-Henriques, Fabian Anton. Mechanistic perspective of mitochondrial fusion: tubulation vs. fragmentation. Biochimica et biophysica acta. 2013 Jan;1833(1):162-75

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PMID: 22884630

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